Unmarried couples might believe that splitting up is easier for them than it is for married couples. After all, there are no lawyers, judges or divorce courts necessary for a clean break. In a perfect split, the parties are in agreement on who gets what, the details are sorted, and the individuals go their own separate ways. If the parties are not in agreement, however, they might end up precisely where most married couples do – in court.
Here is what you should know about unmarried couples and property distribution:
Divorce Law Does Not Apply
You do not qualify for divorce court if you are not married -- unless you live in a common law marriage state or a state that recognizes domestic partnership. In those states, there is still a chance that you might not qualify for divorce court.
The State of Tennessee does not recognize common law marriage, but Tennessee will recognize another state's common law marriage. If the couple lived together long enough as common law man and wife in another state that did recognize common law and they moved to Tennessee, then it is recognized.
Sole And Separate Property
Unless you have opened joint banking or investment accounts, own a home that is titled in both of your names or otherwise title property jointly, the general rule is that each of you owns your own sole and separate property. A one-half ownership interest is presumed on jointly titled property, but that presumption might be overcome by a strong showing that one of the parties made a disproportionate contribution.
What About Children?
The family law division of your court system would address any issues of child custody, support and visitation. In Tennessee, the Juvenile Courts generally have jurisdiction over child custody, support and visitation in un-married couples. All other disputes would be addressed by a separate action or petition in the General Sessions Courts usually (depending on the amount of damages and type of property in dispute); therefore, instead of one court case that would dispose of all the issues, un-married couples potentially face multiple court cases to obtain relief, often increasing the time and expense of recovery.
Cohabitation Property Agreements
Much like a prenuptial agreement, courts will recognize a cohabitation property agreement between two individuals who are living together. The agreement would set out how various assets are owned, managed, and divided upon any future separation of the parties.
The agreement should have a dispute resolution provision on what process would be employed in case of a disagreement on division of property. Liability for debts must also be laid out, and if one partner wants the other to inherit, that should expressed through a will or living trust.
Note of importance: If you own a home together, pay particular attention to a buyout or sale provision.
A cohabitation property agreement will clear many issues in the event of the separation of two parties who are unmarried and living together. Those who cohabitate are best served by consultations with family law attorneys.
If you have further questions about being an unmarried couple and sharing assets, be sure to consult a professional for which steps you should next consider.