It's not uncommon for couples to live together before getting married. These days, many couples see it as an opportunity for a trial run before they commit to getting married. It's a chance to see if the relationship will really work.
Many times, the couple will live together in a house that one party already owns or they go in on a house together. This raises an interesting question: if they decide to break up, who gets the house?
Let's imagine a situation where one person owns a home and the other person moves in with them. The two lovebirds decide to cohabitate and live the married life without the legal commitment of an actual marriage.
This is wonderful for the couple but doesn't change anything about the legal ownership of the house. Despite being "together", the person who originally owned the house is still the sole owner of the property.
What does this mean for the person who moved in? If there is a breakup, they have no legal claim to the house. Also, if the owner decides to sell the house, the person who moved in also has no legal claim to the proceeds of the sale. In other words, if the house is owned by one party, they control everything about the house and the other person has no rights at all.
Things would be different if both of them decided to buy a house together. In that case, there would be a split of the sale of the house.
So, what if one person owns the house, and while cohabitating, the couple decides to get married? If one person owns the house before marriage, that is considered personal property and is not subject to an equitable division if the couple divorces.
However, if the couple uses joint funds to pay the mortgage on a house, then the proceeds of the sale of the house are subject to equitable division if the couple splits. This can get very tricky, especially if one party had equity in the property before the marriage, then shared equity with the other party after marriage.
In a case like this, your best bet is to hire a forensic accountant who can piece together what percentage of equity each party is reasonably responsible for. Your attorney can let you know whether a service like that is required in your divorce case.
If you are unmarried and cohabitating, don't count on having any rights to the house you are living in unless you are the outright owner. If you are cohabitating and decide to get married, as well as contribute to a mortgage payment with your spouse, then you may have some rights when it comes to the house.
Don't get us wrong: you shouldn't marry someone just so you have rights to a house. It's just something to keep in mind!
Whether you're cohabitating or married, in a divorce, it's important to know your rights when it comes to the home you live in. Find out more by talking to an experienced attorney.
Family Matters Law Group has helped clients across the metro Atlanta area find answers to tough divorce questions. If you live in Henry, Clayton, or Fayette counties, contact our office to set up an initial consultation. We're ready to hear your story.