Unmarried Couples Your Property Rights

Moving in Together or Splitting Up

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Unmarried Couples
Your Property Rights: Moving in Together or Splitting Up

Recent nationwide surveys show many couples are deciding to live together before marriage or live together with no intention of marrying at all. For these couples, buying a home is not necessarily more difficult but it does come with additional challenges and items to consider before signing the dotted line.

Unmarried couples will find they have the common options of Tenants in Common or Joint Tenancy contracts when they purchase property. In some states one of these options will be considered automatically for them so they should be aware of what type of contract they are signing in advance.

Tenants in Common:

  • Contract between two or more people to own property together. There is no limit to the number of owners. This type of ownership is common for unmarried couples, groups investing in larger property and those interested in buying property in expensive markets they could not otherwise afford on their own.
  • Tenants in Common can sell their share of the home at any time. If no additional contract is made, they may do this without forewarning other owners.
  • Shares of the Tenants in Common does not need to be equal. Percentages can be assign based off contribution amounts. Sally A. may own 50%, Tony B. 25% and Mary C. 25%.
  • To terminate a Tenants in Common contract one owner may buy out the other(s) or all parties can agree to sell the property and split the profits according to percentage(s) owned.
  • If one owner passes away, then it is whomever they specified in their last will and testament who inherits that share.

Joint Tenancy:

  • Most of the above conditions also apply to joint tenancy. However, a joint tenancy offers a right of survivorship. If one of the owners passes away, the other(s) automatically get ownership without the necessity of a last will and testament.

It is important to realize the above contracts cover the basic property rights for a mortgaged/purchased home or property. The above do not protect individual property (i.e. furniture), discrepancies in contributions to home improvements, or other expenses of owning a home. Therefore, it is imperative that unmarried couples write up a contract that address these issues. Almost like a pre-nuptial agreement (and often perceived as unromantic as one) a contract of terms will protect both parties in case paths do part.

Items to consider in a contractual agreement:

  • If you have a Tenants in Common agreement, make certain all parties do have a last will and testament to clear any possible confusion of ownership in case of death.
  • Include terms for terminating the joint ownership. -Specify if the other party should be given a required number of days notice of the sale and an option to buyout before one of the owners sells their half. -Set limits on the amount of the time allotted for the buyout. A fair time should be offered with a consideration of time constraints created by working through the banking process. -If the property will be sold, make sure to include the percentages of the property owned so each party gets their share.
  • Detail how expenses will be kept on equal terms. Will the mortgage be split? Will one pay the mortgage and the other all the household utilities and joint bills? Again, if the contribution is not equal the difference should be recorded.
  • It may be too cumbersome and unrealistic to include personal property items such as furniture in this contract. Instead you may want to make a separate record. List items that each individual brings into the household. If furniture is later purchased together, many unmarried couples will find it beneficial to keep track of contributions. Because their separation will not be treated as a divorce, disputes over items like these will be harder to resolve without some record.
  • Do not include chore items such as who does the dishes. This can make your contract frivolous and tossed out in a court of law. However, some counselors do suggest making chore lists for all couples (married or not) to help cope with the pressures and expectations of our fast passed lives and homes.

If the unthinkable does happen and you do separate, make sure to give yourself time to cope and process. Even without a marriage it is a major life change. With or without contracts it is important to work together until you can sell or buyout the house if at all possible.

Some coping strategies:

  • Accept and expect mood swings
  • Don't expect to be able to concentrate and work at 100% for a while
  • Don't expect to understand why you separated right away - this takes time and reflection
  • Don't become a hermit - instead use this as a launching pad to rediscover your interests and hobbies
  • Prioritize your needs
8/1/2008 12:00:00 AM