For most people, a house is the biggest purchase we ever make. And it’s so much more than just a possession. It’s a home, it’s where we build a life, where our kids grow up. Because it’s so valuable, it’s also often a key asset in divorce. But what about if you and your partner never married? What happens to the house then?
Rick Jones, one of our founding partners, makes regular appearances on the Danny Bonaduce and Sarah Morning Show, where he answers family law questions from listeners. One recent caller, in the midst of ending a 25-year relationship, finds herself in this predicament. She and her not-a-husband never married but bought a house together. Now she wants to know what she’s entitled to and what options she has. The good news, if you find yourself in similar straits, is that you have both rights and options.
Listen to the call below:
Caller: “I’ve been together with someone for 25 years. We never married. We do own a house together and we are possibly breaking up, and I would like to have the house liquidated, but I have a feeling he’s going to get really nasty. I’m just wondering what my actions need to be either prior to this happening or what the outcome might be?”
Danny: “Okay, your question is, you didn’t marry a guy, been together 25 years, two-and-a-half decades together. You bought a house together. You’re gonna split up and you wanna know what’s going to happen to that house?”
Rick: “My first question to you is did you buy this together? Not only with both of your names and credit, but have you also been equally paying into it in terms of the mortgage?”
Caller: “Yes, we have. We’ve split everything, every bill down the middle for the whole time. Both of our names are on the title.”
Rick: “Great. You have two potential avenues to address this. Outside of family law is this concept of ‘action for partition.’ It’s just as if Danny and I owned a house together and we had to say, you know what, we’re parting ways, as business partners or other partners I guess, and ultimately dividing up the asset value associated with it. Now, that’s outside the family law spectrum.
“The other potential she has is an action for what’s called a meretricious relationship, which is saying, ‘I know we weren’t married legally, but we’ve behaved as married, we’ve had joint financial obligations, take a look at this house for example,’ and then expand.
“What that does is give you the potential to expand, not just this house, but especially if there’s a significant difference of income between the two of you, maybe there’s some other property and roads for her as well.”
Danny: “From what I get on this one though, is if you would like half of a house, you’re going to be happy with this outcome, and if you don’t, you’re not. I think you’re in it 50/50 and Rick asked all the right questions.”
Related Reading: Moore Marsden, Shared Homes, and Divorce: What You Need to Know