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What Happens to Unmarried Couples in California Who Want a “Divorce”?

couple in a sports carUnmarried Couples? According to modern trends, more and more Californians are living together outside of marriage, whether for personal, financial, or other reasons. Even absent the traditional nuptials, however, such couples may, for all intents and purposes, behave just like married spouses–having children, sharing income, purchasing a home, or the like. But what happens when such couples split up? Without the formal act of marriage there can be no divorce. Many people wonder how California courts deal with questions of property and child custody in such situations.

Common Law Marriages in California?

There is a common perception that any couple who lives together long enough enters into a “common law” marriage. So how long must a couple live together before their relationship is considered a common law marriage? In fact, there is no such thing as common law marriage in California. Although the practice once existed, common law marriages were abolished in California back in 1895.

Given that there is no common law marriage, what happens to couples who live together for many years and then split? One can easily see the unfairness of such a situation. For example, a couple may act like married spouses, with one person earning a majority of the income and another taking care of the kids and managing the household. Without a legal marriage, if this couple splits, all the income and assets brought in by the working person would be that person’s property. The other person would be left with nothing. Recognizing this unfairness, California courts have recognized some protections for couples who live together without the formalities of marriage.

Division of Assets for Cohabitating Couples

In a landmark case during the 1970s, the California Supreme Court outlined the manner courts were to handle couples who had lived together without marriage. The court held that property acquired during cohabitation is governed by judicial decision and not the normal community property laws that govern divorcing spouses. Thus, courts are to rely on principles of contract law, looking to the actions and intentions of couples to determine whether there exists any express or implied-in-fact contract regarding property.

Implied Contracts to Share Property

For a person to recover assets after years of cohabitation, they must essentially prove the existence of a contract that entitles him or her to a reward (e.g., a portion of the other person’s property, future financial support, etc.). Such a contract can include an express agreement, such as a written or oral contract. Additionally, such a contract may include a contract implied-in-fact.

The best case for arguing that there was an implied-in-fact contract involves a long-term, marriage-like relationship. This is the situation where a couple has lived together for many years, conducting themselves much as would a married couple. One person may work while they other stays home. They may purchase property together, such as vehicles or a home. They may have children together, raising them as would a married couple. In such a situation, a court may find that there existed an implied-in-fact contract to share the home and all other property acquired during the relationship.

Getting Legal Help in Santa Rosa

Ending a long-term relationship, whether a marriage or otherwise, can be complicated. If you have questions about assets you share with your significant other, Beck Law P.C. can help you. The family law attorneys at Beck Law P.C. can answer your questions and help you determine the best legal strategy given your unique circumstances. For a consultation regarding division of assets, or any other family law question, contact Beck Law P.C. at 707-576-7175 or visit us online.

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