The break-up of a relationship can be heartbreaking whether or not a couple is married. New Jersey child custody and support laws apply equally for married and unmarried couples. Property division rules are a different story.
Spouses have legal rights that do not apply to cohabiting individuals who are unmarried. Divorce isn’t necessary when unmarried partners part ways, but property division can remain a problem, particularly when one person feels he or she has been treated unfairly. Just because property rights differ according to marital status doesn’t mean unmarried couples have no legal standing.
So-called palimony laws apply in non-marital relationships when couples make support and property agreements. Agreements can be verbal or written. Since 2010, only written palimony agreements have been considered by New Jersey courts, although the law is not retroactive – verbal agreements made prior to that time are unaffected.
Cohabitation agreements can address many of the same subjects found in prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements. Unmarried partners can be specific about how finances and the division of property are handled in their relationship. It’s wise to seek legal advice about the rights and responsibilities attached to inter-partner loans and gifts as well as jointly-owned assets and accounts.
Agreements for unmarried partners also may include the couple’s wishes for sensitive issues like inheritance claims and health care directives. A health care directive can allow an unmarried partner to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to make those choices due to a critical injury or illness. In other words, cohabitation agreements cover “what if’s” like disability, death or separation.
Cohabitation, prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements are similar in that they provide personal and asset protection for all parties involved. Unmarried and married individuals may agree living with the terms of a financial agreement of your own design is preferable to having a judge decide your fate in a support or property dispute.
Source: The Huffington Post, “Property and Palimony Law for Unmarried Cohabitating Partners,” Brad Reid, May. 12, 2015