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Property Rights During a Breakup

Getting a divorce can be brutal, but at the end of the day the breakup is legally finalized and both parties can go their separate ways. That's not the case for couples who live together, but never married. The rules applied in a divorce don't exist for cohabiting couples, and problems can develop. That is why if you are in a committed relationship and living with someone, it may be wise to consider having a cohabitation agreement.

The cohabitation agreement would stipulate and clarify a number of potentially thorny issues in the event of a breakup, or even death. For instance, a surviving partner in an unmarried relationship cannot inherit unless a will specifies so. For example, if you buy a house with your boyfriend and he passes away, you may end up owning a house with your boyfriend's parents. And while a legal divorce would define property distribution and debts, unmarried couples would have no such security unless stated in a will.

Property rights are an issue when you are half of a heterosexual cohabiting couple or a same-sex couple. In Pennsylvania, for instance, same-sex couples must have contracts to protect their personal property and even children. Agreements are also needed for situations such as hospital visits, health records and gaining access to financial information.

Even common law marriages are dicey. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, no longer recognize common law marriage formed after December 2004, and a cohabitation agreement would serve the same purpose it does for other couples in other non-traditional families - specifying and clarifying legal and financial questions that could arise in the event of a breakup or death.

With that in mind, experts suggest that committed unmarried couples hire a family law attorney to draw up a cohabitation agreement. Not only does it provide a legal basis for a natural or unnatural end to the relationship, but it would also provide peace of mind in an area where far too many questions could be left unanswered.

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    Attorney Amy R. Stern, a partner at the Lansdale law firm of Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg and Gifford, P.C, is co-presenting a seminar entitled Divorce 101 along with Marc Silverman, Senior Loan Officer of GMH Mortgage Services.Read more...

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