Living together without being married has almost completely lost the social stigma that used to be attached to such an arrangement. Romantic partners often live together for years, and even decades, without any legal commitment to one another while they conduct their lives as if they were a married couple. There seems to be a pervasive myth in American culture that says if you have lived with your partner for seven years you become married by common law. But it is not true. Common law marriage exists in only about a dozen or so states, and even some of those states have begun abolishing the concept.
Regardless of how much they love one another, or how long they have been living together as a couple, the law will still treat unmarried couples as separate individuals when it comes to property rights at death or separation. If a partner dies without leaving a will, Tennessee state law determines who will inherit his or her property. An unmarried cohabitating partner could inherit nothing. If two people decide to go their separate ways, but do not have a legally binding document in place for determining how their property will be divided, one partner could lose everything.
Do you need a cohabitation agreement?
One solution is to work with a family law attorney to develop a cohabitation agreement if you plan to live together for the long term, do not intend to legally marry, and you own property together. Just like a prenuptial agreement, a cohabitation agreement is a contract between the two parties which will stipulate who owns what assets, and how they will be divided at death or separation. Your Nashville family law attorney will help to make sure that there are provisions in place in the agreement as to what each party wants the other to inherit when they pass away, and what will happen with the home they own together.
Just as with a prenuptial agreement, drafting a cohabitation agreement while the relationship is strong and on a firm footing, will help avert the contentiousness that can come later if these details are not spelled out and the relationship goes south. A skilled Nashville family law attorney can work with you to help protect your future and eliminate a bit of worry about what the unexpected might bring.
Remember these tips if you plan to buy a home
If you and your romantic partner wish to buy a home together before you are married (or without the intention of getting married), you must enter into that decision with your eyes wide open. The Tennessean shares these six tips for unmarried couples who are buying a home together:
- Swap financial history with your partner, to avoid “surprises” later when it comes to credit scores and loan opportunities.
- Agree on what you can afford, so neither person is forced to shoulder an unfair cost for the mortgage payment or other bills.
- Sign a contract outlining how much money each person will contribute to the cost of the home.
- Understand ownership options, and specify “right of survivorship” in the title in the event of your or your partner’s death.
- Review tax implications so you can deduct as much interest as you can under the law.
- Reset wedding expectations (if applicable).
If you are facing a family law dispute, you are welcome to contact the experienced Nashville family law attorneys at Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC to schedule an in-person or video consultation. Please call 615-391-4200 or use our contact form to reserve an in-person or video consultation.
Karla C. Miller has devoted her entire career to the practice of family law in Tennessee. She attended Auburn University and Nashville School of Law, and upon graduation in 1996, she opened her own law firm and has been assisting families throughout Tennessee since then. Learn more about Karla C. Miller here.