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The Untold Legal Realities of Cohabitating Before Marriage

Cohabitating Before Marriage

With divorce rates continuing to increase, more and more couples are hesitant to jump into a marriage without residing together first.  It is estimated that about 70% of couples live together today prior to marriage. Right or wrong, good or bad, some cohabitating couples then have to face the ugly reality that they do not want to continue in their relationship.

The problem that they then face is the division of all of their comingled personal property, possible credit cards and bank accounts, a joint lease, or even a residence that they purchased together.  It’s bad enough fighting about property and asset division in a divorce, but it is worse when the couple did not enter into a marriage as the legal rights of each are minimal and sometimes blurred.  Furthermore, merging two homes and investing in a joint living space can leave couples emotionally and financially invested in relationships that might have ended had the couple not cohabited.  Once the relationship has ended for whatever reason, however, the hurt and emotions of the break-up usually do not allow couples to make decisions regarding their joint lives in a reasonable manner.  So, one often seeks legal assistance for questions such as:

  • We bought a home together –
    • But now neither of us can afford to pay the monthly mortgage by ourselves, and my ex won’t cooperate in listing it for sale, what can I do?  (yikes, looks like a potential partition action)
    • I used my personal funds for the down payment, how do I get that back?  (more than likely you are not – what a nice gift you gave to your now ex)
    • My ex stayed in the residence and stopped paying the mortgage and now it is in foreclosure, what can I do to save my credit?  (uh oh, better talk to a lawyer fast as your options are time-sensitive)
  • My ex took all the furniture and some of the personal property that I brought to the relationship, how do I get that back?  (you may not be able to)
  • Who gets the dog that we bought together?  Is there an agreement for custody of the dog?  (unfortunately, dogs are considered “property” so there is no legal “custody” of dogs)
  • My ex moved into my house, and now my ex won’t leave; how can I get he/she out of my house?  (looks like you are now the landlord and the ex is the tenant so you will need to proceed with the eviction process)

And the questions go on relating to the dividing of comingled property.  There are no easy solutions to these questions and more often than not the solution is more costly than if the couple had married and was now in the process of a divorce, wherein each would be entitled to the equitable distribution of assets and debts.

So, be forewarned that while you may not be seeking a lawyer for divorce, you might be seeking a lawyer for another problem.

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