For married couples, property laws are usually straightforward. This is not the case for unmarried couples who will usually need to understand many intricacies regarding what laws the state has on their properties and who will need divorce attorneys and estate planning attorneys to understand the legalities.
Even if you are not married, a court can still find other that certain properties and assets be divided between both of you. The court can do this when it reaches a decision that you have had a marriage-like relationship or a committed intimate relationship. You should know that just because a relationship was long-term, both partners lived continuously, or an engagement ring does not mean that the court will grant such a marriage-like status.
While there is not a comprehensive list to ascertain what qualifies for a marriage-like relationship, the court will look at the following:
- The duration of your relationship
- Why you were in a relationship
- whether you acted like a married couple but decided not to marry
- whether one of you had another affair or was married to someone else during your relationship
- whether your relationship was stable and committed
- whether both of you jointly-held accounts and responsibilities
- whether both of you were aware that you were not in a legal marriage
- whether one or both of you moved or made sacrifices because of your relationship
After establishing that the relationship was marriage-like, the court can divide properties between you two by affirming that your both own properties accrued during the relationship. Dividing properties may or may not be done equally. Whichever way, the court will try its best to divide them fairly and equitably.
In dividing properties, the court will also consider responsibilities that did not require financial investment like child-care, and so on. Equally, the court will consider each party’s financial state at the time of dividing the properties.
In cases of debts, the law is complicated. For instance, there are situations where a creditor might force you to pay a debt belonging to your partner even after you had gone your separate ways. In fact, if the court deems your relationship marriage-like, and one of you is in debt, the creditor can collect the debt from any of you. It is best advised that you talk to your lawyer.
However, if your relationship was not marriage-like, each party is responsible for their debt. If you pay for your ex’s debt in this case, the court will consider it a gift, except you can show that it will only be just if your ex repays you the “gift.” A gift is considered separate property.
Meanwhile, there are certain properties the court cannot divide. Usually, these include:
- assets you accrue and owned before the relationship
- separate property including gifts and inheritance
- some pensions
If the marriage is not recognized as marriage-like and there is disputed property, the court will need you to prove who the disputed property owner is. In cases like this, the court will focus on whose name is on the property. However, with the help of your divorce attorney, even if your partner’s name is on the property, you may be able to file a case to divide that property between you two or even attain ownership of the property.
Chad Foster is a trusted family law and divorce lawyer serving Snohomish and King counties with an office in Bothell. Contact us today to discuss your legal issue.