Cohabitation is the process of living together without getting married, often prior to marriage, and it is more popular now than it has ever been before. The rates have increased over the years, meaning many couples spend at least some time living in the same home or apartment without tying the knot. Some of them are in long-term relationships and may do this for years.
Eventually, those couples may finally get married, and they could then end up getting divorced. This process can cause some issues regarding marital property and their rights to certain assets when they get divorced.
When couples are married, things that they buy together — a home, a car, an art collection, etc — typically count as marital property. They then divide these assets during divorce, as they both have a legal right to them.
The law, however, does not use the same process for unmarried couples. They could cohabitate for years. They could be in a long-term relationship that is longer than many couples’ marriages. It doesn’t matter. Those assets, from a legal standpoint, are not marital assets.
So, if the couple bought many of their major assets before getting married, they may think of them as marital assets during the divorce, only to find out that they do not both have a right to them. This can leave one of them feeling like they lost much of what they had invested in over the years.
There are ways around this, such as using a legal agreement to define the relationship during cohabitation. Make sure you know what rights and options you have.