Are cohabitating couples covered legally?
National and Michigan cohabitation rates are up in recent years. Way up. In fact, the number of non-married couples living together in 2010 is almost double the rate of 2000. The related graphic shows that almost 8 million heterosexual couples nationwide were cohabitating in 2010. That’s not even taking into account the same-sex couples that did not have the legal option to marry at that time.
Cohabitation Rates Increase
These statistics were cited in a recent Continuing Education Seminar for Family Law Attorneys titled, “The Changing Face of Today’s Family and Its Impact on Family Law,” by Professor Pamela J. Smock of the University of Michigan Ann Arbor.
From a sociological standpoint these statistics are fascinating. What’s contributing to the rising cohabitation rates? Thousands of reports and articles investigate all aspects of the trend. Are people scared of divorce? Are they less concerned with religious doctrine? How many of those couples will eventually get married? Are cohabitating couples more committed? Less Committed? While interesting, the answers to these questions could fill entire books and college classes. What’s interesting to family lawyers like Kathryn Wayne-Spindler of Milford, Michigan is the legal implications of the rising cohabitation rates.
Cohabitating Couples’ Legal Rights
Whether short-term or long, cohabitating couples have certain rights and responsibilities that can only be acknowledged if the relationship is legally recognized. Some couples merge finances – perhaps buying a house together or investing in a business. Other non-married couples want the right to make decisions for their partners if medical emergencies arise. If one partner dies, the other can only inherit if there is specific legal paperwork completed.
As Family Law Attorney Kathryn Wayne-Spindler reports that it’s rare that a non-married couples cover their bases with the appropriate legal documents. With the increasing cohabitation rates, many couples should consider Powers of Attorney, Wills, and Trusts. “There are mechanisms for dividing property between non-related parties but it’s a different area of law,” says Wayne-Spindler. She reports seeing only about five percent of her cohabitating clients that have the necessary paperwork.
Children of Cohabitating Households
Legal recognition for the relationship is especially important if children are involved. If both parties are the biological parents of the children, each has parental rights that include legal, medical and educational decision-making regardless of their marital state. If the child is only related biologically to one of the parents, there could be ramifications if the biological parent is incapacitated. In Michigan, a non-biological parent can only adopt his/her partner’s child if the couple marries. Once married for more than a year, the non-biological parent can follow the procedure for a stepparent adoption.
How does a cohabitating couple dissolve their relationship?
Statistics on the breakup of cohabitating relationships are unreliable. Many relationships just fade away. Couples decide, without legal intervention, to split their assets and move on. Without legal action, solid statistics about the rate of long-term cohabitating couples dissolving their bonds are hard to come by. But most articles indicate that it’s at about the same rate as divorce.
This is only legal relevant when it comes to disagreements over the terms of separation. When a couple has been living together for a decade and mingling finances, it can be difficult to come to agreeable terms without a lawyer’s assistance. Some long-term couples find themselves financially stuck, unable to afford life on their own but unwilling to stay with their cohabitating partner.
“Sharing a living room with one’s ex is certainly awkward, but more serious conflicts can arise over money. Michelle Callahan, a psychologist and relationship expert in New York City, says most live-in couples don’t keep financial records during their relationship; not knowing who paid what is troublesome when it comes time to divvy up possessions,” according to the U.S. News and World Report article, “When Live-in Lovers Break Up: The Financial Consequences.”
Contact a Family Law Attorney to find out your rights
For cohabitating couples there are legal means of protecting assets that work like a pre or post-nuptial without the nuptial.
An experienced family law attorney like Kathryn Wayne-Spindler can help long-term cohabitating couples protect their rights by suggesting legal paperwork acknowledging their relationship and preparing should the relationship come to an end. For legal advice about cohabitating, contact the Milford, Michigan law offices of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-685-8888.
The experienced attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates help clients throughout Southeastern Michigan including Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne, Genesee and Livingston Counties. They handle cases in Milford, Hartland, Highland, Wixom, South Lyon, Commerce, Holly, Grand Blanc, New Hudson, White Lake and many more local communities.