Four Myths of Cohabitation

It is a court-free alternative to marriage and divorce.

While once upon a time, a couple, by not getting married, could avoid the messiness and expense of breaking up in court, that is no longer the case. The law now embraces modern relationships.

If you lived with a significant other, and if after the relationship ends they believe that you owe them money or property, they can drag you to court and fight with you for months and years. They can make a claim against you for palimony—the unmarried version of alimony—your house, your car, your business, your personal property, and so forth.

However, unlike divorce, there is little guidance or precedent on how the court will determine to award palimony and split property. The court may outright reject your ex’s demands, grant all of them, or come up with (what might seem like an arbitrary) division.

Thankfully, though, hope is not lost. There are a number of steps you can take while still dating to prepare for a potential break up, including signing an agreement, being strategic in how you manage your finances, and purchasing property with clear intentions and communication.

All contracts between a couple must be in writing.

Although Minnesota legislature requires agreements between cohabiting couples to be in writing and signed, in reality, this rule only applies to agreements where partners promise property or palimony to each other solely because they are sexually involved.

If the promises are based on anything else, then the agreement can be oral and does not require any specific magical legal terms to be enforceable. In other words, if you promise that the home you buy will be the “family home” so long as your partner helps pay for the mortgage, then there is an enforceable oral agreement. It does not need to be in writing.

The enforceability of oral promises is a double edged sword. It holds you accountable for the sweet nothings you promise, but it also allows you to enforce your partner’s sweet nothings when they refuse to act on the promise.

You will get to keep all of the property in your name when you break up.

In most other scenarios, holding title guarantees that you are the owner and that you have superior rights to the property over all other individuals. Not so when it comes to a romantic partner that you live with. Instead of title, the court considers the couple’s intentions towards the property during the relationship.

Meaning, if you and your partner have the intention of jointly owning a home, a car, a sofa, etc., and if both of you contribute to the purchase of said property, then the court is likely to find both of you owners of the property irrespective of whose name is on the title.

If both of your names are on the title, then both of you will have ownership rights after a break up.

On the flip side of Myth #3, having both names on a title will not guarantee rights for both parties in the property. This may seem counterintuitive given the court’s concern for romantic partners’ intentions, and what can be better evidence of joint ownership intention than having both parties’ names on the title.

Yet, in Mechura v. McQuillan the court disregarded the fact that a couple owned a home in joint tenancy and instead awarded the home solely to the man because the woman provided little to no value towards purchasing and paying for the home.

Because of this seeming discrepancy, it is safer not to assume how a court will rule in your case without a proper and full analysis of your facts by a legal professional.

To learn more about what oral promises may be binding on you, to strategize on how to avoid finding yourself trapped in an oral agreement, to receive help in negotiating and settling post-break up property disputes without going to court, schedule a time to talk. We'd be happy to help!


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