Whether a couple is married or not, there are a lot of legal issues to address during a breakup. It is important for unmarried couples to understand their legal rights. In some cases, they can be considered to have a common law marriage, and all divorce laws will apply to them. Other issues do not rely on marriage at all. For example: if the couple has biological or adopted children, parental rights will apply regardless of the couple’s marital status. It is important for those who are part of an unmarried couple to consult with a Bellevue unmarried couples lawyer in order to protect their legal rights.
Common Law Marriages
WA is one of the few remaining states that recognize common law marriage. A common law marriage is one in which the couple never formalizes their marriage with a marriage license, but still considers themselves to be married. This is proven with evidence that a couple agreed to be married, lived together for at least two years, and held themselves out as a married couple.
If the court agrees that you had a common law marriage, WA divorce laws will apply to you as if your marriage had been formalized. This means that alimony, property division, and other financial matters will be settled under provisions of WA law (unless you and your partner have a different written agreement in place).
Parental Rights For Unmarried Couples
Some legal rights are not affected by your marital status. If you have children, your parental rights exist regardless of whether you were ever married to the other parent. There might be extra steps to establish these rights for unmarried couples. (For example, a woman’s husband is presumed to be the father if she has a child during the marriage, but if the couple was never married, the father might need to prove paternity to the court with a DNA test.)
Once paternity has been established, the court uses the same standard to make custody orders. This standard is “the best interest of the children.” Because the best interest of the children is usually not affected by whether their parents were married or not, unmarried couples are treated much the same as married couples in making custody arrangements. These arrangements include parenting time schedules (given on a “child possession and access order”) and the right to make legal decisions for your child (known as “conservatorship” under WA statutes). Child support is also not affected by the parents’ marital status. It is calculated based upon each parent’s respective income and the amount of parenting time that he or she has with the child. Other factors can affect your child support (such as extra medical or education expenses for the child, or your support obligations for any other children), but these also do not depend upon the parents’ marital status.
Property division is usually the biggest legal issue for unmarried couples. While WA law has default provisions for dividing property in a divorce, there are no legal rules that decide who gets property when an unmarried couple breaks up. This is why it is so important for unmarried couples to protect their financial interests during a relationship and consult with a property division lawyer when the relationship ends.
Here are just a few of the many property division issues you might have to address:
- Home equity
- Dividing a jointly-owned business (shoring equity, voting rights, and management)
- Dividing retirement accounts
- Investments (stocks, real estate, etc.)
- Dividing your household items
There are many unique situations that affect your property rights. What if, for example, one partner wanted to be married, but the other partner refused? Can the refusing partner now deny that the other has any property rights at all? Or what if the couple had an agreement that one would work to put the other through school? Can the party who paid tuition claim compensation for the tuition and living expenses that have allowed the graduate to earn a higher wage? In these situations, you will likely need an attorney’s help to identify and protect your property rights.
Call Us Today to Speak with a Bellevue Unmarried Couples Lawyer
There are many legal issues that unmarried couples can face. Without legal advice, your parental and property rights can be jeopardized. The experienced Bellevue family law attorneys at Aberdeen Family Law are here to help. We fight hard for your parental and property rights, whether you were legally married to your partner or not. Call 206-790-6430 to schedule your consultation.