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Separation and Unmarried Couples

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What Are the Legal Differences Regarding Separation Between Unmarried and Married Couples? 

Both married couples and unmarried couples may decide to separate. Perhaps the relationship has been rocky for a while, and one or both parties need a break from one another. A separation can last a few weeks, months, or even years. A separation can be an informal arrangement, or it can be a legal, formal arrangement for a married couple. Decisions will have to be made regarding how finances will be divided, who will pay which bills, and, if you have children, parenting time and financial support will be determined.   

Separation and unmarried couples is a somewhat different matter. If you are an unmarried couple with a cohabitation agreement, you can turn an informal separation into a more binding separation by invoking the details of the agreement. For a married couple, a legal separation—while recognized by the court—does not hold the same effect as a divorce.  

Married couples determined to divorce could probably skip the separation unless there is another reason to remain married while living apart—although Michigan does not require a couple to live apart to engage in a legal separation. Some married couples may live apart under a legal separation to allow one spouse to retain insurance benefits or to sort out living arrangements and child custody. Other than determining whether they want to continue as a couple, unmarried partners have little reason to engage in a separation.  

One caveat to whether unmarried partners should engage in an informal separation—if you do, your parenting responsibilities during the separation period can potentially have an impact on a later custody award. As an example, if you simply leave the home you share with your partner and children and have no contact with your children for three months, you could have difficulty obtaining any meaningful level of custody once your split is made permanent.    

How Can Melissa Pearce & Associates in Novi, MI Help Unmarried Couples Facing Separation?

You may face many different issues when you and your partner separate than a married couple who can file for a legal separation. Because of this, it is important that you have a solid legal advocate in your corner who will ensure your rights and future are properly considered, as well as the best interests of your children.   

Attorney Melissa Pearce is the attorney who will explain your options carefully and comprehensively, laying out your options, then helping you choose the best way forward. Melissa’s overarching goal is to educate her clients on keeping children out of the process while ensuring they spend regular time with both parents. Whether you are considering separation as an unmarried couple or a married couple, Melissa Pearce is ready to assist you.   

What Are the Legal Issues When Unmarried Couples Break Up? 

The legal issues associated with an unmarried couple’s break up are much the same as those of a married couple. While any property owned prior to the date you began living together should technically remain yours, that can be iffy with no “marriage date” to show when you “officially” became a couple.  

A cohabitation agreement can solve this issue by stating which assets belong to each partner as their sole and separate property. Any property or assets obtained since you began cohabiting, will likely be treated in the same way as a married couple’s assets and properties, dividing them equitably between the partners. If you and your partner have a cohabitation agreement, then you will have already spelled out the manner in which these assets will be divided between you.   

Absent a cohabitation agreement, and assuming you and your partner do not agree on the division of assets, child custody, or other issues, a judge will make those decisions for you. These decisions may include how your home will be divided, as well as bank accounts, vehicles, furniture, electronics, and other possessions. Pets can also be an issue for a separating couple. People grow quite attached to their pets, and both partners may want the family dog or cat. Similar to the division of property, a judge will award the pet to one partner.  

While child custody and child support can be addressed in a cohabitation agreement, this does not mean that a judge will uphold that part of the agreement. The courts must always act in the best interests of the child. If the judge feels your agreement regarding your child is not in the best interests of the child—even if the two of you agreed on the details—then your child custody and child support agreements can be voided.     

Does Common Law Marriage Exist in Michigan? 

While many people believe common-law marriage occurs when two people have lived together for a specific length of time, this is not strictly true. Only eight states currently allow common-law marriage (Utah, Texas, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Montana, Kansas, Iowa, and Colorado). To qualify for a common law marriage, you must live as husband and wife, holding yourself out as a married couple.  

The state of Michigan abolished common law marriage in 1941. The state only recognizes a common law marriage if the parties were married under common law in one of the eight states that still recognize this type of marriage. Another issue could potentially affect unmarried couples who want to split up or separate.   

The term “putative spouse” refers to an individual who, while not the legally valid spouse of another individual, is not married only because of a technicality—i.e., the individual failed to file the marriage license. Or, perhaps, one spouse convinced the other that they obtained a marriage license and then filed it after a ceremony.    

Under the putative spouse statute in Michigan, if an individual has cohabitated with another in the good faith belief they were married, that individual will be considered a putative spouse, given the same rights as a legal spouse. This begs the question as to whether a partner in an unmarried relationship could potentially be deemed a putative spouse.    

It is extremely important that you discuss this issue with attorney Melissa Pearce from Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC. Melissa will look at the facts of your situation, determining your best course of action if you want to separate from your partner.   

Will We Need a Lawyer if We Are an Unmarried Couple Separating? 

The answer to this question depends largely on whether your separation is contentious, or whether you and your partner are largely in agreement regarding the terms of your separation. If you have a cohabitation agreement in place, then you may need an attorney who can ensure the terms of the agreement are properly adhered to. If you do not have a cohabitation agreement, having a lawyer is even better.  

Getting the Help You Need from Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC

Attorney Melissa Pearce helps those considering separation and unmarried couples who are uncertain whether they should separate and hash out the details or simply split and go their separate ways. There are many factors to consider regarding these issues. Melissa will ensure that your separation or split as an unmarried couple goes as smoothly as possible. It is important to work together for the most peaceful transition possible, particularly when there are children. Contact Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC for highly skilled representation from an honest, empathetic lawyer.  

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