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Divorce in California

Legal Rights of Unmarried Couples Living Together in Los Angeles California

Getting married in California bestows many legal rights and obligations on spouses but are the same rights afforded to unmarried couples who live together but never get married?

Yes and no. California makes provisions for domestic partners, providing some of the same rights and conferring similar responsibilities on them as for legally married couples. However, no statute confers the rights of married couples upon domestic partners and there are some important differences to bear in mind.

Here’s an overview of what you need to know.

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Does California recognize common-law marriages?

California does not recognize “common-law” marriage but some rights are now afforded to “cohabiting couples” of any gender, who live together for an extended period without marrying.

In recent years, the legal rights of cohabiting couples have improved because they can now file a petition with the court for their relationship to be known as a domestic partnership.

A domestic partnership is defined under California law as two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring. Previously, to enter into such a partnership, domestic partners had to be either of the same sex or of the opposite sex and over 62 years of age.

The SB30 law removed these requirements in 2019 and now, any individual over the age of 18 can legally enter into a domestic partnership in California.

Cohabiting couples who are officially domestic partners enjoy some of the same legal rights as married couples when in California but these laws may cease to apply if they leave the state. Because domestic partnership arrangements are not federally recognized, challenges may exist for individuals who want to share federal employee benefits or access the rights and protections of married couples in other states.

Another important difference between domestic partnerships and marriages is that immigrants cannot achieve legal status in the U.S. through their partnership status in the same way as if they are married.

What rights do unmarried parents have in California?

Under California state law, if an unmarried couple who has children separates before the children reach the age of 18, both parents are responsible for raising the children—just like in a divorce.

The “best interests of the children” are the priority in such cases, with the key issues of child custody, parenting and support settled according to this central guiding principle.

Whereas, in marriages, the spouses are presumed to be the mother and father of the children, this is not the case for unmarried couples. An unmarried father may need to prove paternity after a separation to establish parental rights. Unless both partners agree that they are the parents, a paternity test may be required for the father.

If the male partner in the relationship is confirmed as the father of the child, he is legally responsible for paying child support for the upbringing of that child.

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Do unmarried partners have to pay alimony?

If domestic partners remain unmarred in California, they effectively have separate finances. There are no shared bank accounts, investments or savings accounts as there may be in a marriage.

After a separation, each individual’s finances remain legally separate. Although child support may still need to be paid from one partner to the other, no payment of alimony or spousal support is legally required from the higher-earning partner to the lower-earning partner like in many divorces.

This is not to say that support payments between the separating partners cannot be made—it’s up to them. However, the California courts will not enforce such payments.

Do unmarried partners have shared property division rights after separation?

If a domestic partnership breaks down, the partners have similar rights to a share of the co-owned property as married couples have.

If an asset was owned solely by an individual before the partnership began, he/she will retain sole ownership after the split.

However, any co-owned property must be divided equally after the end of the partnership. Sometimes, disputes arise because of difficulties in proving that an asset is co-owned. This is where the skills of an experienced California divorce lawyer can assist in making a case through the legal system.

What is a cohabitation property agreement in California?

A cohabitation property agreement is drafted before an unmarried couple starts living together as domestic partners.

This document is similar to a prenuptial agreement in a marriage, where spouses-to-be agree to certain terms and conditions that will govern their relationship in the event of a separation.

A cohabitation property agreement is a legal contract that will be enforceable in court provided it meets certain legal requirements when it is drafted. Such agreements can help to prevent disputes over shared/co-owned property if the relationship breaks down.

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What should a cohabitation agreement include in California?

Consider legal assistance when drafting a cohabitation agreement. You should include the following details:

  • The financial setup: who will handle the finances and how resources will be allocated while the relationship exists, including who pays for bills, insurance, vacations, etc.?
  • What happens if one party becomes incapacitated physically or mentally and cannot make decisions for themselves?
  • What happens with property and key assets if the relationship breaks down: who takes what from the relationship, including homes, cars, boats, motorcycles, collectibles, art, jewelry, etc.?

Ending a long-term relationship without ever being married can cause significant legal issues that will affect your separation. Drafting a comprehensive cohabitation agreement can help prevent the types of conflicts that may occur when a relationship ends.

Legal assistance from a seasoned attorney will ensure that the agreement you create will stand up in the California courts.

If you have any issues with a domestic partnership or need a cohabitation agreement drafted in California, the affordable lawyers at The Sands Law Group APLC can discuss your options. Contact us or call at 213-788-4412 today for a free 15-minute phone consultation about your case.

Filing for divorce without proper preparation

Divorce proceedings require a lot of preparation and documentation, regardless of whether the divorce is contested or uncontested.

Separated spouses should take the time to locate the necessary documentation and evidence before triggering the legal processes. From a financial standpoint, try to gather bank statements, tax returns, property records, and so on.

Beyond the more obvious evidence that you’ll need, an experienced divorce attorney can guide you on how to assemble other documentation that will help you exercise your rights and meet your obligations during the divorce.

Trying to rush the process

It’s common to want to “move on with your life” during a divorce and not waste time. This can lead to hasty decisions that are not necessarily in your best financial interests in the long term.

Consider the consequences of decisions and never agree to anything just to speed up a settlement. It may seem like a reasonable decision in the short term but rushed agreements can leave money on the table, impacting your longer-term financial position.

Not prioritizing the children’s best interests

Children’s best interests are the major consideration for any decisions that affect them in divorces in California.

When negotiating or collaborating on a divorce settlement, bear in mind that judges won’t approve anything that could negatively impact the children. Neglecting the children’s interests or using them as leverage to improve your position is likely to count against you.

Generally speaking, negotiated agreements that avoid conflict and promote the two parents working together for the benefit of their children are encouraged by the California family law system.

Acting out of spite or anger

All decisions during a divorce—financial and otherwise—must be made with a calm, clear head or they may come back to haunt you.

This is where guidance from an experienced divorce lawyer can help greatly. Your attorney will understand your emotions but should work to protect your position and prevent any rash decisions made out of spite, bitterness or anger that could cloud judgment and end up costing you later.

Remember, both sides in a divorce benefit from decisions that work to avoid expensive and time-consuming litigation.

If you have any financial issues during a divorce in California, the affordable lawyers at The Sands Law Group APLC can discuss your options. Contact us or call at 213-788-4412 today for a free 15-minute phone consultation about your case.

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