With a growing number of people postponing marriage but living together as unmarried couples, there is a rise in financial issues and disputes when a couple separates. As North Carolina Family Law Attorneys, we often see the financial harm that can result when unmarried couples don’t have clear plans regarding joint finances.
Married couples in North Carolina are protected by certain laws regarding the accumulation and division of marital assets and debts (Equitable Distribution), as well as the provision of spousal support from a supporting spouse to a dependent spouse (Post Separation Support and Alimony). Such couples also are able to capitalize on certain tax benefits through a married filing status. These laws that serve to protect married couples do not apply to their unmarried counterparts.
Since North Carolina generally does not recognize common law marriage, unwed couples sometimes face difficult issues when it comes to separation and dividing assets and debts accumulated during the relationship. The most common dispute for unwed couples is the ownership and division of a home that was purchased by one or both of the parties and lived in during the relationship.
For example, an unwed couple buys a home together with both of their names on the deed, but the mortgage is only in the name of one party. When that couple separates it may be clear that both have ownership in the home, but less clear as to whether the party not listed on the mortgage has any duty to help pay that debt. This could be the case even if the parties had a pattern of splitting the costs of the mortgage for many years. Further, what happens if one party just decides that they shouldn’t have to pay for repairs anymore, or if one party thinks they deserve more equity for paying more towards the down payment or mortgage over the years?
Fortunately, unmarried couples can protect themselves from these types of issues by planning ahead. Specifically, couples can choose to enter into contracts for issues ranging from home ownership to financial support for one another in the case of a separation. These types of arrangement are typically set forth in contracts such as Property Ownership Agreements and Domestic Partnerships Agreements. In these contracts, parties can clearly set forth how certain joint property will be owned and potentially divided, as well as other important issues like responsibility for monthly bills and the care of pets. Even without separation, these types of arrangements can serve as a great tool for unmarried couples to set clear and fair guidelines as to how to split or not split a couple’s finances.
If you are in a relationship but are not married, it’s always advisable to at least speak with a North Carolina Family Law Attorney to better understand your rights. To speak with one of our lawyers at Miller Bowles Cushing today, please contact us at (704) 810-1400 to schedule a consultation.