What Legal Options Are Available to Unmarried Couples Who Are Separating?

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Bloomington, IL Family Attorney

According to the United States Census Bureau, approximately 18 million adults were involved in cohabitating relationships in the U.S. as of 2016. As marriage rates have fallen in recent years, the number of Americans choosing to live with their significant others outside the legal obligations and protections of marriage has risen significantly.

Just as many marriages end in divorce, many of these cohabitating relationships will end in separation. And just as the law strives to protect the interests of both spouses during the divorce process, it strives to protect the interests of unmarried individuals as they separate from their significant others. Although laws related to separations may not always be as straightforward and predictable as those related to marriages, unmarried individuals do have many legal opportunities available if they have need of them.

What About Our Property?

In most instances, unmarried couples are not ordered to pay payments akin to alimony known colloquially as “palimony.” However, if a written agreement binds the parties to such payments, if a unique support situation occurred during a long-term relationship or if other special circumstances exist, such support may be ordered.

Ownership of most property will revert automatically to the individual who owned the property at the start of the relationship. Dividing mutual assets is a process generally treated as it would be if a couple had been married. Judges tend to order an equitable division of joint property except in special circumstances.

What About Our Kids?

The standards that apply to married parents of shared biological or adopted children generally apply to the unmarried parents of shared biological or adopted children. Child custody is granted according to the “best interests of the child” standard. If you and your significant other share biological or adopted children, you will have to go through the same kinds of custody processes that similarly situated married parents do. If you can agree on your child’s custody agreement through mediation or negotiation and that agreement is in the child’s best interest, a judge will likely sign off on it. If you have fundamental differences with your significant other about who should have custody of your child or what the terms of the agreement should be, you may need to go to court.

If you have children that are biologically or legally related to only you or your significant other, the children will likely continue to reside with the custodial parent. However, it is important to note that if the non-custodial parent has provided a significant amount of childcare or otherwise formed a substantial bond with the child that legal options may be available in order to institute visitation rights. In rare cases, a stepparent may be granted custody, but this ordinarily only occurs when the custodial parent either surrenders his or her rights or is deemed unfit.

Additional Information Is Available

If you are separating from your significant other and have legal questions, please consider speaking with an experienced Bloomington, IL family attorney at Pioletti & Pioletti. The area of law that concerns unmarried couples continues to evolve as the American family structure evolves. An attorney will be able to advise you of your current legal options so that you can make informed decisions moving forward.