What are the Legal Rights of Unmarried Couples After a Breakup?

Marriage is not for everyone.  So many people today live together, but never actually get married.  While there are systems in place for married couples to get divorced, there is not really a similar system for unmarried couples.

Just because people are not married does not mean the relationship was not serious.  While married couples get “divorced,” and are entitled to things like alimony/spousal support, and equitable division of their assets, what are unmarried couples entitled to?  When people give up their jobs to care for the house or children, can they get anything when they break up?  The experienced Pennsylvania family lawyers of the Sadek and Cooper Law Offices explain:

Everyone Gets What’s Theirs

During a marriage, any money or property that either party gets while they are married is considered “marital property.”  When they get divorced, each party gets their fair share of that marital property.  When a couple is dating, there are no clear cut-off points like the date of marriage and the date of divorce.  Instead, when a couple in a serious, long-term or live-in relationship breaks up, each party only gets what they owned.

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Everyone comes into a relationship, whether it be a marriage or not, with their own money and possessions.  Even in a marriage, when the relationship ends, they get to keep what they came into the relationship with.  That means if the husband or boyfriend owned a Porsche, and the wife or girlfriend owned a Honda Accord, they both leave the relationship still owning those vehicles.  Unlike a married couple, things that an unmarried couple earn while they are together – or even while living together – each remain the property of the one who earns or buys the property.  That means that if the house you lived in with your boyfriend or girlfriend was only in their name, it is still theirs – and you are unfortunately not entitled to it.

Anything that is jointly owned, though, is entitled to be split.  Whenever two people own anything, they are each entitled to it.  That means that if two people split the cost of a boat and share its use – whether they are friends, dating, married, or business partners – they are each entitled to half of the boat.  When an unmarried couple buys things together, or owns things like cars or homes jointly, they are entitled to split these items when they break up.  Each party is entitled to their fair share of jointly-owned items and money, even without marriage.

Sometimes separating out who owns what can be difficult, but lawyers for each party can always negotiate agreements on how to divide the property, whether it is at the beginning or the end of a relationship or time living together.

Can You Get “Palimony” in Pennsylvania?

When a married couple gets divorced, if one party took financial care of the other during the marriage, supported spouse is often entitled to “alimony,” or “spousal support” after the marriage.  This helps provide for a divorced spouse for a period of time – maybe until they can find a job, or maybe for a many years.  Alimony for unmarried couples is sometimes called “palimony,” though many dislike this name because it belittles unmarried couples by calling them mere “pals.”

In Pennsylvania, and most states, there is no automatic way to get alimony for unmarried couples.  When an unmarried couple breaks up, even if they lived together for many years or share children, there is no automatic way to continue getting financial support from your ex.

According to the leading Pennsylvania case on the issue, though, there are ways to potentially get support from an ex if there was an agreement about it.  In Mullen v. Suchko (1980), the Pennsylvania Superior Court (the appeals court) examined an agreement between a man and a woman that were not married.  The woman agreed that she would live with the man and travel with him, and the man agreed to take care of the woman financially.  They moved in together, and they were apparently romantically involved, and he provided her with about $500 per week.  The court had no problem with this agreement.

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This means that if you are going to be moving in with a significant other, it might be a good idea to create a concrete agreement to decide what happens in case of a breakup.  This will help ensure everyone’s rights are respected.  If you break up, and didn’t have a written contract, a good family lawyer may still be able to prove the agreement existed.

Contact a Philadelphia Family Law Attorney of Sadek & Cooper, LLC

If you are in a serious relationship, or a serious relationship just ended, and you want to discuss your rights to shared property or continued support after a breakup, you need an experienced Philadelphia family lawyer.  The lawyers at the Sadek and Cooper Law Offices can help you create agreements or enforce your rights with your long-term or live-in significant other.  For a consultation, call us at 215-814-0395.

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