As the classic song says, breaking up is hard to do. This is true whether you are married or not. However, ending a relationship is often legally much easier if the parties are not married. Ending a marriage requires going to court and getting a divorce. In most cases, unmarried couples can end the relationship and split-up without addressing any legal issues. However, some relationships end very bitterly, especially if shared property or shared children are involved.
The Ventura divorce attorneys at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth can help you with any legal disputes that arise between you and your ex if you are ending a long-term relationship or a relationship with cohabitation that did not involve marriage. For a free consultation on your case, contact our law offices today at (805) 643-5555.
Separation for Unmarried Couples
First, it is important to understand when you are “unmarried.” Sometimes, people may misunderstand things like common law marriage, marriage by estoppel, or other legal concepts that create a marriage. While most people know if they are married or not, others may assume they are married when, legally, they are “single.”
First, there is no common law marriage in California. In some states, when two people live together and act like they are married, the law may confer a marriage upon them. CA law has not allowed common law marriages to be formed in California for over a century. Even in states where this is possible, the law requires that each party consents to the marriage, and usually requires some ceremony or words to be spoken to form the marriage. Regardless, nothing in California law automatically allows two people to be married by living together.
Having a “putative spouse” is another legal concept that can form a marriage where there is otherwise no legal marriage. This is used in very specific situations, where the parties think they are married, but there was a flaw in the process; there’s some technicality blocking the marriage. For instance, if the parties hired an illegal officiant or were actually married outside the borders of California, their marriage may technically not exist. However, if they continue to act like the marriage is real, the marriage will be considered legally valid in court, and they will be considered putative spouses. Again, this does not turn cohabitation into marriage, but turns a flawed technicality into a full marriage.
Cohabitation may make people think they have a “domestic partnership.” However, this is primarily a relic of the time before gay marriage was legalized in California. Domestic partnerships allow couples where one is at least 62 years old to get the same rights as married couples, primarily for visitation in hospitals and inheritance. Technically, these are not “marriages,” but still follow the same rules for divorce as married couples. This is not the legal name for cohabitating, unmarried people, but a different concept altogether.
Rights During Unmarried Break-Ups
If you break up with your significant other, there may be hard bonds to break – but some bonds may have legal rights attached. If the parties share property, real estate, or children, the break-up may be legally complicated.
When couples break-up after living together or being together for a long time, there may be complex property issues. First, any shared property should be split. Unlike California marriages, unmarried couples only share the property they jointly acquired or agreed to share. This means that if one person purchased a car during the relationship, it is only that individual’s property. However, if the parties jointly acquired property, they share ownership of it in the same way business partners or joint-owners would. Couples may also share ownership because of an oral or written agreement to share it.
Shared children also become a complex legal issue when couples stop living together. If parents move apart, typically one of them keeps physical custody of the children. While custody may be shared, one parent usually has the kids for the majority of the year. The other may only get custody on weekends, holidays, or during supervised visitation. To supplement the custodial parent’s childcare expenses, the other parent may be ordered to pay child support. This can happen under a court order, or by agreement between the parties. Many times, lawyers are needed to help set this up or calm disputes.
Lastly, while divorced spouses may be entitled spousal support or “alimony,” California has no automatic system for paying support after unmarried break-ups. However, if the parties agreed that one would support the other, courts may enforce so-called “palimony” as part of a written or oral contract between the parties.
Attorney for Unmarried Couples
If you are ending a long-term relationship, whether through divorce or a breakup, there may be legal issues underlying the separation. Talk to an attorney if there is shared property, shared children, or potential support or “palimony” between parties, even if you were never married. For a free consultation on your case, contact the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today at (805) 643-5555.