Who gets the house if we’re not married?
In some circumstances, this is a very difficult question. Usually when we’re handling cases for people splitting up, we are generally working with divorces. With divorce, there are statutory laws and case laws in place that direct us and give us some sort of sense as to how property should be divided. We’ve previously written about what happens during child custody disputes for people who are unmarried; today we’re going to briefly speak about property disposition alone.
If, in fact, you and your partner have not been legally married or are not in a common law marriage, then the situation is one of straight contract law governing two adults who’ve entered into certain contractual arrangements to purchase real estate and other personal property. This can be a very difficult area in which to determine an outcome; the Court will be at a disadvantage because we don’t have the firm guidelines we would with a divorce. Simply put, you always want to protect yourself when you’re in a relationship and start mixing in business aspects with your personal relationships.
Recently, I received a phone call from a potential client who had been in a relationship with a man for approximately one year. She owns her own home, but the two of them decided to move into a separate home that they purchased together. My client put down a hefty sum of money as the down payment with the idea that they would be living together eventually as husband and wife. The home was purchased and the note and mortgage were placed in the gentleman’s name. However, thanks to my client being quick on her feet, she insisted that her name was put on the deed (which took some doing since these people were not legally married in Oklahoma). Just because you aren’t married does not mean you cannot have your name placed on the deed, and I most certainly recommend you do so to protect your interests. Any time you purchase property whether it be a car, home or other types of personal property, your name should be on the deed.
Even though her name was on the deed, we are still caught in a difficult position. Now that their relationship is ending, who is going to get the home? This is yet to be determined, but I think I’ll propose that one of the parties remain in the home and purchase the other party’s interest in the property. In the case at hand, since my client put down tens of thousands of dollars as the down payment, she should request that her ex-boyfriend repay her the money she spent as the down payment. Alternatively, since she payed the entire down payment, he could sign an instrument giving up any interest or claim he has in the home. Then she would be free to move forward and sell the home, or do whatever she needs to do to recoup her investment. Long story short, you must be sure to protect yourself anytime you’re entering into any kind of contractual relationship with a person that is not your spouse.