Lived with a woman for years do I owe her anything if we split up?

Terminating any type of long-term relationship can be difficult, especially if you have been living with someone for many years. Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “If I have been living with a woman for many years but we have no property or assets which we purchased together, do I owe her anything if we break-up?”

What do I owe my partner of many years if I move out?

In a perfect world, all persons deciding to live together would sign a cohabitation agreement which would outline the rules which documented their financial obligations and responsibilities towards each other. In an imperfect world, however, couples are generally left hashing out the details of their relationship as they face each other in the living room screaming about whose books are whose.

So how do you know whether or not you owe your partner anything? Let’s review several important questions:

  • Do both of you hold title to any major purchases?
  • Do you have your finances co-mingled in a joint checking account?
  • Has your partner made any financial contributions to property you hold?
  • Have you given your partner money which suggests you have been supporting him or her?
  • Do you and your partner have any children together?
  • Have you co-signed any loans for your partner?
  • Did you sign a written agreement which states that you will support your partner after the relationship ends?
  • Have you casually referred to yourself in public as married or done anything which may have established you and your partner as a common law couple?

As you can see, the question of whether or not you owe your partner anything after the break-up is a complicated one.

Some issues are easy to resolve. For example, if you have co-mingled your monies they will need to be divided. If you have co-signed a loan, you must follow the terms of the contract and continue to make payments. If you have a child together then you must continue to support that child, regardless of whether they live with you or not.

Some questions are a bit more complicated. For example, if you have purchased a home together and both of your names are on the deed, obviously your partner owns her portion of the home (either as joint tenant or as tenants-in-common). If you are listed as the sole owner on the deed but she can prove that she contributed monthly to mortgage and maintenance, she may be able to prove there was an intention to share the property (although this can be difficult without a written agreement). If she can prove the intention to share, she may be entitled to part ownership of the property.

Palimony do I owe it?

Other issues may not be as easy to resolve. For example, do you owe her money or “palimony” if you have been continuously supporting her for ten years?

Although palimony is not a legal term, in some cases, certain courts have ruled that if a couple has lived together for an extended period of time then one partner may owe the other partner support if certain elements exist. For palimony to be awarded it must be allowed under state law. Elements the court will review include the following:

  • A long-term relationship has existed for over 10 years.
  • There was a written or oral agreement regarding financial support.
  • There was an understanding between the partners that support would be given.
  • Sacrifices were made by one person to support the other (i.e., one partner stayed home while the other worked or one partner worked while the other attended school for career advancement).
  • One partner makes a significant amount of more than the other partner.

Common law marriage another issue to consider

Many partners do not realize that currently nine states and the District of Columbia recognize common law marriage. The rules and regulations vary by state, but a common law marriage can exist if the following are true:

  • The couple presented themselves in public as a married couple.
  • The couple demonstrated an intention to be married.
  • The couple lived together for an extended period of time.

Other issues may also be of importance for establishing a common law marriage such as whether the couple listed each other on their pension or life insurance policies, whether they filed joint income tax returns, and whether they maintained joint accounts, including banking, credit card, and savings accounts.

Assuming the above is true and your partner is able to establish you as her common law husband, there would be no difference between your common law marriage and a ceremonial one. You would have to divide your property according to your state’s property division laws and potentially pay spousal support.

Talk to a family law attorney if you have concerns about any of the issues outlined above.

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