5 Big Potential Pitfalls of Being Together Without Getting Married

It is very common for couples to share many of the aspects of marriage without becoming legally married.  They may purchase a home together, have children together, have bank accounts together, etc. While many people have good reasons for such arrangements, it is important to be aware of the myriad of legal pitfalls that can come up. The following is a list of a few.

  1. Purchasing Real Estate Together or Living in Your Partner’s Residence. When a married couple gets divorced, regardless of whose name the real estate is titled to, if it was acquired during the course of the marriage or increased in value during the course of the marriage, the marital portion of that real estate will be subject to division between the spouses. If an unmarried couple breaks up and owns property together and they cannot agree on how to settle the real estate, a partition action would need to be filed to force the sale of the real estate. If an unmarried couple breaks up and only one partner owns the real estate, unless there is a real estate agreement, the partner without an ownership interest can be evicted and likely will receive no compensation for monies paid towards real estate expenses, like mortgage payments.
  2. Sharing a Bank Account and Credit Cards. When a couple gets divorced, any portion of bank accounts or credit card debt that was acquired during marriage will be subject to division. Further, the court will put a restraining order on all bank accounts and use of the partner’s credit to prevent a spouse from draining accounts or accruing debt in the other partner’s name while the case is pending. If an unmarried couple breaks up and owns bank accounts or shares credit cards, one partner could potentially drain the bank account and accrue large debt in the other partner’s name and the partner on the losing end will likely have a difficult time obtaining relief from the court system.
  3. Having children. When a married couple has children, both husband and wife are considered custodians of the children. When an unmarried couple has children, the mother is the sole custodian unless and until the father files an action to obtain custodial rights and is granted those rights. Father does not even have visitation rights until he obtains an order from the court, though he does have an obligation to financially support the child.
  4. Medical decision. Under Ohio law, if a couple is married, the spouse is first in line to make medical decisions if the other spouse is unable to. Unmarried couples would need to have a Health Care Power of Attorney appointing the partner for that to happen.
  5. Social Security/Pension Death Benefits/Health Insurance/Income Taxes, etc. A spouse can claim social security retirement benefits based on the other spouse’s earning record. A spouse can often receive death benefits under pension plans. A spouse is able to receive health insurance coverage through a spouse’s employer. A married couple has the option of filing jointly on their tax returns. Unmarried couples lose out on these benefits.

To find out more about the benefits and risks of marriage and foregoing marriage, contact a Cleveland Family Law Lawyer.