When unmarried couples separate, they face unique legal challenges. They don’t have the same protections as married couples, so dividing property can be difficult and contentious.
When you’re not married, the law sees you as separate and will not protect your property as shared property. Instead, the person who purchased it technically owns it, even if you both used it.
It’s normal for unmarried couples to live as if they’re married, sharing funds and working together to pay bills. However, when doing this, they may not consider how they’d divide their property if they separate. They may take it for granted that the other person will be fair and share assets.
What can you do to protect yourself if you buy property with your partner but aren’t married?
One good thing is to make sure you’re putting both people’s names on new property. For example, if you plan to buy a home, make sure you’re both on the mortgage or take steps to become joint tenants. You may also want to hold property as tenants-in-common. Each owner, in that case, may have a different share of the property.
Another option is to have an attorney help you draw up a cohabitation agreement. This agreement allows unmarried couples to come up with financial arrangements and obligations and that they’ll maintain even after separation. For example, a cohabitation agreement can say who has to pay the monthly expenses in your home or how much money each of you needs to place in your joint accounts each month.
The cohabitation agreement also allows you to discuss what happens if you decide to separate. It details what will happen to the property you’ve purchased together and gives information on who is expected to move out, when they have to move, if the property will be sold and so on.
Cohabitation agreements can also address what you’d leave to your partner upon death, if one of you passes before the other, so that you’re both protected in the event of death. Without that protection, the estate would go through probate and potentially leave your partner without the right to any of the shared assets.
Whether you plan to stay together or are starting to look into separating, there are options for people who aren’t married to protect themselves. Your attorney can give you more information on what you can do to protect your interests.