February 23, 2018

Living Together-What if if Doesn’t Work Out

Living Together – What If It Doesn’t Work Out?

When people marry, the law gives each spouse legal rights and obligations.  Those operate during the marriage and, if the marriage ends, the law gives protection to the spouses and guidance for the dissolution.  There is no similar protection and guidance for couples who live together and don’t marry. And no matter how committed to each other they are or how long they live together a couple cannot form a common law marriage in Connecticut.  In fact, the law treats couples who live together without being married essentially as strangers.

For example, the couple might have agreed that one partner would sacrifice a career to raise a family or move across country for the other’s job promotion.  When the relationship fails, unless the couple had married, the sacrificing partner has no right to get alimony from the other to help pay future living expenses.  And, unlike under our divorce law, the family court can’t order one unmarried former partner to share their assets with the other no matter how fair it would be to compensate the partner for the years of sacrifice.

For the unmarried couple living in a home purchased individually or jointly, there are a host of problems that can occur when the relationship fails. If title were solely in one partner’s name, the other partner wouldn’t have the same clear legal right as a spouse to remain living in the home or to receive any of the equity even if that partner contributed to the household expenses, paid for improvements or assumed responsibility for upkeep.

Joint ownership by both partners doesn’t solve all of those issues and raises some others.  If the couple splits up, unless both agree on who will get full ownership of the home and who will occupy it – a particularly difficult question where they do agree that their children should remain living there to avoid disruption to them – the only legal option is a partition action.  In a partition action, most likely the court will order the house sold and the proceeds shared.  So with two equal co-owners, each gets one-half.  The court can’t even consider the relative financial and non-financial contributions of the unmarried partners, facts that the divorce court might find important if the couple were married.

What if a partner stops contributing to the mortgage payments and refuses to sell the home.  Unless the other partner can afford to carry the mortgage themselves, their credit will continue to deteriorate, for months or years, until the bank forecloses or a court ordered partition sale occurs.

These and the other issues for an unmarried couple that lives together can be addressed – not only to deal with issues if the relationship fails but also if one of the partners dies.  Connecticut allows these people to enter into contracts, sometimes called cohabitation agreements.  A properly done cohabitation agreement will be legally valid and enforceable, and would provide a somewhat predictable break up outcome.  Since there is no “one size fits all”, consider consulting with an experienced family lawyer to find out if you and your partner are good candidates for a cohabitation agreement.  If appropriate, getting one, hopefully, never to be used, will be a good investment for peace of mind.

Lisa J. Cappalli is Of Counsel at the law firm of Freed Marcroft, LLC, which has offices in Cheshire and Hartford.  She can be reached at lisa@freedmarcroft.com or 203-271-3888.

This column first appeared in RJ Media Group’s February 22 Cheshire Citizen.


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