Property Division Without Divorce / by Cassandra Hearn

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The way Americans create their family has changed drastically over the years. It used to be taboo for a couple to live together and build their futures together without the benefit of marriage, but this is no longer the case. It is increasingly common for couples to cohabitate without ever getting married. Like a married couple, however, an unmarried couple may have a relationship that falls apart and when that happens, the issue of property division can become important, especially where the parties have lived together for a long time.

California is a community property state for married couples, which means that during a divorce, the parties will divide their marital assets and marital debts equally. However, for people who are unmarried, there is no such presumption. Moreover, California does not recognize common law marriage, so regardless of how long the parties lived together, they do not acquire the rights and responsibilities of marriage without actually getting married. This means that unlike marriage, unmarried couples will not acquire an interest in the property acquired during the relationship solely by virtue of being together as a couple. For example, if one of the people in the couple purchases a set of furniture during the relationship, that furniture belongs solely to the person who bought it, and he or she can take it with them at the conclusion of the relationship, free and clear of any claim of the other person.

One way that this becomes particularly complicated is when the parties have purchased a house together. Then the relationship breaks down, and one of the people wants the house sold. In such a circumstance, the person who wants the home sold can file what is called a partition action. The court will order the home be sold, sometimes at a partition auction, where it will be sold to the highest bidder. How much each of the owners receives from the sale will depend on the way in which the property was titled. What can be even more complicated is where only one of the parties purchased the home, but both resided there and financially contributed to it over the years. Unfortunately for the person not on the deed, it is common for the financial contributions to be treated as rent payments, and he or she will not be entitled to a share of the worth of the home.

Property division without marriage can be complicated. Call us today to talk about your rights and responsibilities with regard to your property and that of your partner