Legal Rights of Unmarried Partners Living Together

Unmarried partners choosing to live together is a common scenario in today’s society. However, without the legal framework of marriage, these couples face unique challenges regarding property rights, financial responsibilities, and parental duties. Arizona law treats unmarried cohabitation differently from marriage, leaving many unaware of their rights and potential vulnerabilities. For those living together outside of marriage, understanding how to protect oneself legally becomes important, especially in areas concerning shared assets, debt liability, and arrangements for children.

Understanding Your Legal Status as Unmarried Partners

In Arizona, the concept of common law marriage, where couples are considered legally married after living together for a certain period, does not apply. This means that couples who choose to live together without getting married do not automatically receive the legal protections and benefits that marriage provides. This includes matters related to inheritance, property rights, and decision-making in the event of a partner’s incapacity or death. As such, unmarried partners must be proactive in creating legal agreements to outline the handling of shared assets, responsibilities, and the care of any children. Cohabitating couples need to understand this distinction to ensure they make informed decisions about their relationship and assets.

Property Rights and Responsibilities

For unmarried partners living together, navigating property rights and responsibilities can be complex. Unlike married couples, where assets acquired during the marriage are often considered jointly owned, unmarried couples typically retain individual ownership of property they bring into or acquire during the relationship unless there is joint titling or documented evidence of a mutual intention to share ownership. This setup can lead to complications, especially when the relationship ends or if one partner passes away. To mitigate potential disputes and clearly define ownership and financial responsibilities, drafting a cohabitation agreement is advisable. This legal document can specify how property should be divided, detail the ownership of significant purchases, and outline the financial contributions of each partner.

Financial Support and Debts

Unmarried partners are not automatically obligated to provide financial support to each other, nor are they legally responsible for the other’s debts incurred during their relationship. This independence means that if one partner incurs debt, creditors typically cannot pursue the other partner for repayment unless they have co-signed or guaranteed the debt. To manage shared expenses and financial responsibilities effectively, it’s wise for partners to agree on how to split costs and document these agreements in writing. Such clarity can prevent misunderstandings and conflicts over money, ensuring a fair and transparent handling of finances.

Parental Rights and Responsibilities

Parental rights and responsibilities can be a complex issue for unmarried partners. In Arizona, both parents have rights and obligations regarding their children, regardless of their marital status. However, establishing paternity is a crucial step for unmarried fathers to secure legal rights to custody and visitation. Without this legal acknowledgment, mothers automatically receive sole custody. Both parents are responsible for providing financial support for their child, with child support obligations determined based on income and the child’s needs. Unmarried couples may also face challenges in making arrangements for their children’s care and upbringing, necessitating clear agreements and legal documentation to ensure both parents’ rights are protected.

Protecting Your Rights

To safeguard their rights, unmarried partners living together in Arizona should consider legal measures beyond traditional marriage protections. Drafting a cohabitation agreement is a key step, allowing partners to outline how they will handle property, finances, and other responsibilities during their relationship and in the event of separation. Additionally, creating wills can ensure that assets are distributed according to their wishes upon death, rather than default state laws. Powers of attorney for healthcare and financial matters are also crucial, granting partners the authority to make decisions on each other’s behalf if they are unable to make these decisions for themselves. These legal tools provide a framework for protecting individual rights and making shared intentions clear. 

Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney

Cohen Family Law offers comprehensive support for unmarried partners seeking to protect their rights and interests. Our experienced team can guide you through drafting cohabitation agreements, wills, and other essential legal documents. Reach out to us today to ensure your relationship and assets are safeguarded with personalized legal solutions.