There are many laws that regulate the property rights of married couples. However, with the exception of a handful of states who recognize domestic partnerships or civil unions, most states have no laws establishing property rights for unmarried couples who live together. So, if you are unmarried and live together, you need to take the appropriate steps to preserve your relationship and specify the property rights of each party.
Establishing Property Rights By Contract
To legally specify how you and your partner will own property during the course of your relationship and after, you need to outline your intentions in a written contract. This type of contract between cohabiting, unmarried couples is commonly referred to as either a “cohabitation agreement”, a “non marital agreement”, or a “living together contract.”
Unmarried couples who live together in anticipation of an intimate relationship can enter into a written agreement which can determine how their assets will be divided if and when they separate, as well as, what should happen when one of them dies. This agreement must be in writing and must be enforced when the relationship or living arrangement ends.
A written agreement is especially important should you buy a home together and, in this case, should address all of the following issues:
1. How you intend to take title to the property – Some states permit you to hold title as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship,” which means that if either of you dies, the other inherits the house in its entirety. Alternatively, you may want to want to hold title as “tenants in common,” this way each of you can specify who get your share of the property in your will or trust.
2. What percentage of the house each of you owns – In most states, joint tenants must own equal shares.
3. What should happen to the house if you break up – Must one party by the other out, or must the house be sold and the proceeds divided? If you cannot agree on which party should buy the other out, which party gets first choice?
How States Deal with the Property Rights of Unmarried Couples
Almost every state enforces written contracts between unmarried couples. What’s more, the longer you live together, the more essential it is to have a contract in place that specifies who owns what. Otherwise, you may be confronted with a serious (and quite possibly expensive) legal battle should you separate and can’t come to an agreement on how the property you have acquired together should to be divided.
In the absence of a contract that specifies how shared income and joint property should be handled, it is extremely difficult for the courts to know what was going on during the relationship. In fact, if the relationship between the parties was an intimate relationship and there was no contract, it will be quite difficult for one party to pursue the other to recover any shared income at all.
Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney
As you can see, it is extremely important for cohabiting, unmarried couples to have an agreement in place that specifies each party’s right to property during the relationship and/or when the relationship ends. Otherwise, you can end up in a complicated and expensive legal battle over who owns what.
An experienced family law attorney can help you draft an agreement that establishes your right to property and helps you protect your interests in the event that your relationship ends in conflict over property rights. For more information, call an experienced family law attorney for a free consultation.