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Unmarried couples: Are your rights to your home protected?

It is no longer unusual for a couple to choose not to get married. For any number of reasons, more people than ever are choosing to stay committed without tying the knot. While this may certainly be in the best interests of the people involved, there are some drawbacks with staying unmarried.

For example, if you and your partner are not married but decide to buy a home together, it can be a challenge to figure out how to do so in a way that is fair. You not only have to consider what is fair upon acquisition, you have to determine what will be fair in the future, and in the unfortunate circumstance of parting ways with your partner.

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California is a community property state, meaning, when a married couple purchases something during their marriage, it is typically considered a marital asset. If they divorce, they go through the process of dividing marital assets equally. This means, generally speaking, the total of assets and debts accumulated during the marriage is added up and then split evenly.

If you are not married, however, there are no marital assets to split. This means that if your name is not on a title, you will typically not have ownership of that property and you could wind up without a share of the home you and your partner lived in together.

There are ways to ensure that you can both protect yourselves and your individual ownership of property, like your home, even without the protection of marital status.

One way to define your ownership rights is to do so right from the beginning. You can hold property as tenants-in-common or as joint tenants, which allows two or more people to establish ownership interest in a shared property.

If the property has already been purchased in your partner's name alone, you can still protect yourself by drawing up a document where you and your partner acknowledge that both parties have a share in the property and establish common intention. Keeping track of all the financial contributions you make to the property can also be crucial when the property is in someone else's name.

Whatever route you decide to take, it can be essential that you have the support and guidance of an attorney. You don't have to be married to need legal representation, particularly when it comes to establishing ownership rights to an asset.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Unmarried Couples and Property - Basics," accessed on Feb. 16, 2016

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