Asset division issues for non-married couples

On behalf of Stange Law Firm, PC posted in Family Law on Wednesday, March 25, 2015.

Both the definition of what constitutes a family, and the ability of Missouri law to keep up with changes in social attitudes are in a state of flux. Today what the law sees as a committed couple is not always confined to a heterosexual marriage, nor is an actual marriage a prerequisite. These developing new norms for how a couple can form can also interact with state law when couples decide to split up.

Some states recognize “common law” marriages, in which two unmarried people who have cohabited for long enough can be considered as a married couple, Missouri does not, unless you are a centenarian (that is, your common law marriage dates back to before 1921), or your common law marriage is recognized in another state. But if common law marriage is not viable as the basis for an orderly division of assets, what else is available?

One answer to this question is a cohabitation agreement.

What is a cohabitation agreement? Some have described it as similar to a prenuptial agreement without the nuptials. It is an agreement, preferably in writing, under which an unmarried couple have a contractually-enforceable understanding of how their assets will be managed between them (“assets” include not only tangible property like a house and furniture, but also intangible items like bank accounts and insurance policies). A cohabitation agreement is not intended solely as a mechanism to divide assets in the event the couple splits; it can also govern how they will treat property while they are together.

Preparing a cohabitation agreement is something that should be undertaken with careful consideration. Although such an agreement is definitely preferable to the alternative of no agreement, a poorly-drafted agreement can create problems of its own. Anyone with questions about cohabitation agreements in Missouri, or who seeks assistance in making one, should contact a family law firm that has experience in helping clients to make such contracts.

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