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Do Unmarried Couples Have Property Rights?

According to statistics, there are roughly 51 million households in America with unmarried couples. That is nearly 45% of all households. Between 1990 and 2007, the number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased by 88%. It is clear to see that the country has embraced this alternative to traditional marriage and family development. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for the law.

While many see marriage as a restrictive, outdated step in a relationship, it does have many legal benefits for married couples. As more and more couples choose to not get married, it is all the more important for them to understand their rights and take necessary legal precautions.

What Happens to Property in a Split?

When a marriage ends, the couple’s home, assets, and other belongings will go through equitable property division. This means everything will be divided fairly between spouses (not necessarily equally) in a divorce.

So what happens when an unmarried couple splits? When two people have been together for a significant amount of time, they can begin to accrue a number of assets. They may purchase a house or apartment together, invest in a number of different valuables, and even share finances. In the event of a split, it is not surprising that disputes and legal battles often ensue. It can be difficult to prove your right to another’s property if you were never officially married and never put anything in writing. Without established property rights, splitting up assets can be an extended headache.

What Happens to Property in a Tragedy?

Equally concerning for most couples is what will happen to property in the event of a death. What if your partner were to die in an accident or become incapacitated? Would you have any legal right to make decisions on their behalf or claim ownership of your shared property? In many circumstances, an individual may be denied access to their loved one or "joint" assets simply because they were not married.

The Answer: Cohabitation Agreements

While not the right solution for every couple, establishing a simple property agreement can help both individuals keep track of ownership and easily resolve issues if a breakup were to occur. This is especially helpful for couples who have been together for a long time and obtained substantial property together or separately during the course of the relationship (i.e. one partner buys a home or vehicle).

Cohabitation agreements can outline who owns specific assets, how expenses are broken up, and how certain accounts are managed. If a house was purchased together, the agreement can cover the percentage that each partner owns and what will happen to the home if the event of separation. An agreement can also help establish ownership if one partner were to pass away without a will.

Regardless of whether a split is mutual or not, property division between a couple can be heated. That is why having a skilled and understanding property division attorney in St. Louis can be crucial to your case. Call The Buxner Law Firm today to set up a consultation.