Living Together but Unmarried? Ask Yourself These Questions to Determine if Your Partner has Legal Leverage

Since 2000, unmarried cohabitating couples have grown by over 40% in the U.S. Over 40% of children are born to unmarried couples. While cohabitation continues to rise, marriage rates are on the decline. Yet many of these couples are breaking up even before they ever marry. What happens when the separate?

Usually couples are able to work out their (financial) differences. Sometimes parties decide to mediate any financial disputes between them and/or use an outside-the-box approach to dispute resolution. But when that doesn’t work, a legal action may be filed. While there is no “common law” marriages in California, one partner may still try to assert legal rights against the other when splitting. These legal actions are not resolved in Family Court or governed by the Family Code. Rather, these cases are heard in the expensive civil court system and are very difficult (and most often impossible) to prove (absent an express written agreement).

Note: If the parties have children together, child custody and child support actions ARE heard in family court. Any additional issues between the parties (e.g. division of personal property, assignment of loans etc.) must be resolved in civil or small claims court.

What questions should you ask yourself to determine what, if any, legal leverage your boy/girlfriend may have against you should you dissolve your relationship? Here are some of the biggies:Did you (ever) make an oral agreement to combine earnings or share property?Did you (ever) make an oral agreement to combine earnings or share property?


  • Did you (ever) make an oral agreement to combine earnings or share property?
  • Did one of you quit working to tend to domestic duties?
  • Was there an agreement that one partner would support the other while s/he pursued a new career?
  • Did one of you promise the other to care for him/her the rest of your life?
  • Do you have children together?
  • Did one or both of you bring children from another relationship into this relationship that the other one is helping to raise or pay for?
  • Do you intermingle your finances? Share income?
  • Do you co-own assets?
  • Have you worked together to create something of value?
  • Did you promise to share retirement assets in the future?
  • Does your partner receive employment income from you?
  • Do you financially support your partner?

When analyzing whether or not your relationship gives rise to a legally enforceable right, look to these questions. They don’t necessarily mean that there’s a legal relationship between the two of you. But answering “yes” can mean that a legal claim exists (or may exist). If you would like a comprehensive review of the particular facts of your case and/or you and your partner would like to consider drafting a cohabitation agreement to solidify your financial expectations – schedule a consultation with us or another attorney you know and/or trust.

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