It is becoming increasingly common for couples to form stable, long-term relationships without ever getting married. This includes both heterosexual couples and same-sex couples in domestic partnerships. Many view marriage as an unnecessary social stamp on a relationship that is already strong. However, when the relationship falls apart, the lack of a legal framework can make it difficult for parties to know where they stand, what happens to their property and their children. If you ever have this problem, even though you are technically not getting a divorce, you should find a Family Law Practice Overview who can explain your rights and what to expect.
What Happens to Our House and Our Shared Possessions?
Members of an unmarried couple are not legally entitled to split the assets without a valid oral or written agreement. This is part of what is called “palimony,” where one ex-partner pays the other payments that are like spousal support.
Without this sort of agreement, the division of property depends upon whether the assets were bought jointly or separately. If separately, the asset remains with whoever bought it, even if the other partner used it frequently. This can lead to a lot of division, which is why many unmarried couples have signed written agreements that discuss asset division. In contrast to other states, California does not recognize common law marriage.
What if I Want Custody of Our Children?
When an unmarried relationship dissolves, the mother automatically receives sole custody of the children. She has the discretion to permit or deny visitation or shared custody. She can also seek child support from her ex-partner, because California does not base child support on marriage, but on the best interests of the child. To do so, she must establish her ex-partner’s paternity. This involves filing and serving a Petition to Establish Parentage on the father, and an Order to Show Cause for child support in a family court.
If the male partner wants custody or visitation, he must file a Petition to Establish Parentage and an Order to Show Cause for custody, visitation, and/or support. Should the male partner deny that he is the father, or if the female partner deny it, either can request a DNA test that will establish whether paternity exists. Once paternity has been established, the court can then order visitation rights or shared custody, unless the judge believes that it would not be in the child’s best interests. If paternity is not established, the mother retains the sole right to decide visitation and shared custody. Likewise, the mother cannot expect to receive child support payments from her ex-partner.
Does It Make a Difference if I Have a Domestic Partnership?
It certainly does. A domestic partnership gives a couple almost all of the same rights as a married couple. When a domestic partnership dissolves, the process is usually very similar to that of a divorce. A domestic partner can petition to receive spousal or child support. In the case of the situation above, if you are not the biological parent of the child, you still might be able to establish a shared custody arrangement or visitation rights based on a pre-existing bond with the child.
Family Law Practice Overview is located in Santa Rosa and offers an entire scope of divorce services to clients in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Windsor, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Willits, Clearlake, Lakeport, Kelseyville and throughout Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake County.
Beck Law P.C. offers a no cost, no obligation initial consultation and can furnish the experience and knowledge to help guide you as you come to the decision to divorce or not divorce.
Making an appointment to meet with us is not a decision to file for divorce. It is merely an investment in exploring what options may or may not apply to your particular situation. Your visit to the Beck Law Offices is confidential, as is the information discussed. You can contact our office at 707-576-7175 or contact us online.