Dividing Real Estate Assets When Unmarried Couples Split

When the more traditional couple, aka married folks, divorce and go their separate ways, the process of dividing up the property is dictated by the law, for the most part. But what about those who choose to live together without the legal binds of marriage, which is approximately 14 percent of those in the age group of 25 to 34 years. 

And many of those 14% have more than divvying up the dishes, linens, and CD collection. They plunged in together and purchased a house. The rules for this situation is different, so if you find yourself considering cohabitation without a walk down the aisle and that legal piece of paper, here are some things you should know if that relationship doesn’t hold. 

Dividing Real Estate Assets – The Difference When You’re Not Married

There are options for married couples that divorce when it comes to dividing property such as a house or other real estate. For instance, one spouse can buy the other spouse’s part, or the property can be sold outright, and the profit is split. If the couple can’t come to an agreement, the court can make the decision for them and force a sale. 

However, the court doesn’t have much jurisdiction when it comes to unmarried homeowners, if the property is equally owned by the unmarried couple. This means that both names need to be on the title. Who paid the most of what is irrelevant.  If one person is determined not sell, it is a problem for the other person to resolve, not a divorce court.

So, what happens if one of the persons agrees to buyout the other person? This can be an expensive move because the transferring of assets also entails tax issues. For a married couple getting a divorce, this is a tax-free transaction. It is recommended that the unmarried couple seek the advice of an accountant and determine what the taxes are before making this decision. 

How Can Unmarried Couples Protect Themselves? 

Because there are legal complications such as that discussed earlier, experts advise for unmarried couples have a written agreement in place before making a major purchase like a house. Yes, this can take the romance out of the relationship, but it is the best way for both parties to protect themselves.

Today, a handshake just isn’t enough if an unmarried couple decides to buy a home as a couple. In just about every state, any agreement made regarding real estate, must be a written agreement. It doesn’t need to be a formal document drawn up by a lawyer either. It can be a simple one-page agreement that states how the property will be divided if the relationship ends. 

This type of contract is referred to as a “Cohabitation Agreement,” and it should state at the minimum the following:

  • If the relationship ends, how will the real estate be divided? Options are selling the property and divide the proceeds, or one person buy the other person’s part. 
  • Determine what percentage of each party will receive of the profits when the property sells
  • If the two parties can’t come to an agreement at the time of the split, how will those disputes be handled? Before going to court, seek the services of an unbiased mediator is the less expensive route.

What If There Isn’t A Cohabitation Agreement?

If no written agreement is drawn up between an unmarried couple prior to buying a home, it can become an expensive and long legal battle.  The legal fees alone can reach $25,000 and upward quickly and can even be more than the property is worth. With that being said, it would be less expensive to have a lawyer draw up the agreement prior to making the purchase. 

Of course, for one person to bring up the cohabitation agreement can be a delicate time, which is why more unmarried couples buying a home together won’t bring the subject up. It can be an awkward situation for a couple, but the future is unknown and protecting one’s self is key to these things. By mapping out how things will be done and stating who owns what ahead of time is only wise. 

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