The Legal Hurdles of Unmarried Couples Who Are Breaking Up

couple sitting on the floor

Unless you are one of the lucky few, your relationship could be doomed from the start. Studies suggest that couples are more likely to break up than to stay together. It is even more challenging for younger couples who began going out in their early 20s. Many of these relationships don’t end up in marriages. The sense of anger and loss after a breakup can sometimes be secondary to the legal hurdles one has to face when dealing with a breakup.

While legalities must often involve marriage, some couples never decided to get married but got their finances all tangled up. People who lived together or bought a house and a car or have a joint savings account but never got married don’t have the same legal rights as married couples do. It’s a sad fact, but it’s a fact that unmarried couples often have to deal with.

Assign a Mediator

A mediator between an unmarried couple should be someone who knows them both. You can choose a lawyer to do that, but it would actually be easier at first to just have a friend act as a conduit for messages, legal documents, and other things. This is especially important if the breakup was not amicable nor peaceful. If no one wants to mediate between you, that’s the time you have to seek the professionalism and expertise of lawyers as they will know the best way to come up with an agreement.

It is also understandable that couples may not want to see each other again after a bad breakup. That’s why lawyers and courts use the services of a process server to serve legal documents to the defendants in a case like this. It’s important to remember that marital or family law does not apply to unmarried couples who separate. An exception would be if the state where they live recognizes common-law marriages and domestic partners.

Ownership of Properties and Debts

The law presumes that unmarried individuals each have their own properties and debts. The problem with unmarried couples, however, is when they decide to combine their assets and liabilities. It is possible that some couples who’ve been together for years will think about signing their names on the lease or even taking out a car or house loan in some instances. The law has provisions for this, although they are not always clear.

Married couples jointly own assets and liabilities no matter who applied for a loan or who earned more. During the dissolution of a marriage, the law is clear as to who owns the properties. If there is a prenuptial agreement, that will modify the rules though the guidelines are still exact. But in the case of unmarried couples, dividing assets and liabilities is always the hardest thing to do.

couple having a fight

The law provides that if the unmarried couple separates, the assets and liabilities shall be divided equally 50-50. Or, in some cases, the individuals will retain ownership of the assets and debts as long as there’s no written agreement saying otherwise. For example, if your partner moves in with you after you signed your name on the mortgage, then that home is essentially yours even if your partner contributed to paying for it.

When there’s a written agreement to share assets, that’s when things become problematic. Sure, you can divide the assets equally because there’s an agreement about it. But how about the loans and the other debts? How about the money in the bank? Some argue the use of the implied-from-the-circumstances agreement, but that’s murky at best and chaotic at worst.

Going Through the Separation

Unlike married couples, you are not entitled to a special mediation or expedited hearing. Your case will go through the normal process as if the court is merely dissolving a business entity. The only time you will receive special treatment is when there are children involved in the case. If you are fighting for child custody, the court’s family law division will handle your case.

As with any legal case, it matters what kind of agreement you have entered into prior to breaking up. Should you have documents drawn up? Definitely. It will help to have actual documents pertaining to the agreement than to use verbal agreements as your defense. While relationships should not be based on your assets and liabilities, it will help to clear these matters early on before living together without the legal protection of marriage. In the end, you will thank yourself for the vision you employ in protecting your assets.

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