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The longer a relationship lasts the more intertwined the two individuals lives become. Knowing the law is not only important for married couples but also for couples who have been in a relationship for a long time. Check out the legal law tips for unmarried couples who are breaking up.
Each unmarried partner is presumed to own his or her own property and debts unless you’ve deliberately combined your assets—for example, by opening a joint account or putting both names on a deed to your home. This differs from married couples, for whom any debt or asset acquired by either spouse during marriage will usually be considered jointly owned in the event of a dissolution—unless the parties signed a prenuptial agreement modifying these rules.
The legal presumption of independent property ownership of unmarried partners can generally be overcome by a written agreement to share assets. In many states, a proven oral or implied-from-the-circumstances agreement to share assets can also be enforced by the courts (although this can be extremely difficult to do if there is no written contract).
Where it’s established that an unmarried couple’s assets are jointly owned (for example, when both names are on a deed), the assets are considered to be owned in equal 50-50 shares. The exception would be if there is proof of a different agreement or, in some instances, where one partner clearly made a greater contribution and can prove it.
The property aspects of your dispute will generally be handled by the ordinary business section of your state’s civil courts, just as though you were going through a business dissolution. This means in most places you aren’t entitled to any special mediation services or expedited hearings, which are common in divorce court, unless you have child custody or child support conflicts (these will most often be handled by the family law division of your local court).
In most states, neither unmarried partner is entitled to receive any alimony-type support after a breakup unless there is proof of a clear agreement to provide post-separation support. In some states this must be a written agreement. The fact that one of you supported the other one during your relationship or that you signed wills providing for each other upon death generally is irrelevant to a claim for support unless you can prove that a contract to provide support after separation existed. For married couples, on the other hand, if either party has been financially dependent on the other, or if one person earns significantly more than the other, the judge can order the higher earner to pay alimony (spousal support or maintenance).
Why Living Together Agreements Are So Important If You Separate. Steven Berzner urges unmarried couples to prepare written living together agreements covering their property, their home, and other important issues. Doing this while their relationship is going well will head off lots of problems should they ever break up, Properly written living together agreements are legally enforceable in court. Most important, a written living together agreement can minimize the potential of even going to court.
Steven Berzner is a lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He practices family law exclusively, and has done so for over 20 years. He is also a Florida Supreme Court Certified family law mediator. During that time, he has represented clients in high conflict divorces, domestic violence, child and spousal abuse, custody, child support and just about every other type of family law cases. What separates Steve from other attorneys in his field is his dedication to each and every client and their children, regardless of the fees they pay or type of case they bring to him. Steve also provides pro bono services to Women in Distress and No More Tears, organizations that provide assistance to victims of domestic violence and their children.
Steve is a very active member of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar. To name just a few of his accomplishments, he is a member of the highly prestigious Executive Council, the chair of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee, and a member of the Children’s Issues Committee. Steve also volunteers as a mentor to recently admitted family law attorneys.