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How Separating Unmarried Couples Handle Property Division

Published May 18, 2020
Property division for unmarried couples who are separating is much more complex than it is for divorcing couples. For this reason, it’s important that unmarried couples discuss and create a cohabitation agreement upon buying a shared home to prevent future headaches.

In today’s economy, many unmarried couples are deciding to purchase a home together for financial reasons. Whether they intend to eventually marry or not, couples are pooling their resources to purchase a home. As of 2017, 53.6 percent of the housing units in Portland were occupied by their owner, up from 52 percent in 2016. Unmarried couples who are purchasing a home together should take some time to explore the implications of this decision, especially in the event of a future separation. By having these discussions now, both partners can feel more at ease with their decision—no matter what the future brings.

Understanding Ownership for Married vs. Unmarried Couples

As part of the divorce process for married couples, there are several guidelines in place that govern the division of property. For example, one spouse has the option to buy out the other person, or the couple can sell the property and divide the profit. State courts are able to oversee these processes to ensure that the decisions are carried out. However, the court does not follow these same practices when it comes to matters involving unmarried couples. Instead, even if one partner wanted to buy out the other, the transfer of assets between unmarried individuals carries more costs than a similar transfer between spouses.

Steps to Take Before Buying a Home Together

As matters involving property division can be considerably more complex for unmarried couples who decide to split up, experts advise that unmarried couples put some clear expectations and protections in place to serve as guidelines, should they eventually separate. Make sure that this agreement is in writing, as it is very difficult to resolve the situation if you only had a verbal understanding. Instead, work with an attorney to draft a cohabitation agreement that specifies what will happen to the home if a breakup occurs, what percentage of the profits each individual will receive if the home is sold, and how to resolve unforeseen disputes that could crop up during the process.

Preparing for the Future

Without a written cohabitation agreement in place, a couple who separates under bitter circumstances could face a long and costly legal process. It’s much wiser to spend the time and money now to put a solid agreement in place than to waste a considerable amount of time, energy, and cost in the future. If your partner refuses to discuss the possibility of creating a cohabitation agreement, that’s understandable. But, try to gently remind them that this is an opportunity to solidify your future together while protecting both of you individually. Eventually, most couples find that going through the process of creating a cohabitation agreement actually makes them feel more confident and connected to one another.


To learn more about how a cohabitation agreement could serve you, reach out to Lee Tyler Family Law, P.C. today by calling (503) 233-8868.

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