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Sacramento CA Estate Planning Blog

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Common Law Marriage is a Myth: A Warning for Unmarried Life Partners

A frequent and potentially hazardous belief I hear is that "common law" marriage exists in California.  Absolutely NOT TRUE.  No matter how long you and your partners have lived together, no marriage or marriage rights are created.  

Some partners try to create those legal rights by signing a partnership agreement--which can be useful after a breakup, or even after the death of one partner.  Those documents must be carefully constructed, or any mutual understanding may be dismantled by a court.

A recent case in Ohio illustrates this point:  Frederick and Amber had a tortured relationship.  Frederick began living with Amber in Amber's house--which she had acquired in a divorce settlement.  Frederick paid off the mortgage on the house, and Amber transferred ownership to Frederick by means of a quitclaim deed.  

When Frederick would not marry Amber, Amber moved out of their mutual home.  However, they both signed an agreement which called for the immediate sale of the house, and the sharing of the proceeds.  When they tried to reconcile, Amber agreed to move back in, but only if Frederick transferred back to her a one-half interest in the house.  They again signed an agreement stating that they were "equal partners" in the house, with Amber's name to be added to the deed, and for each to take an equal share in the house if there were a future termination of their relationship.

Alas, the relationship finally ended, but Frederick refused to transfer one-half ownership to Amber.  Amber sued Frederick, and lost.  The Superme Court found that the promises they had made to each other were essentially of "love and affection," which alone was not enough to be consideration (or payment) for the transfer.

Have a qualified attorney review your estate plans, and determine whether they are relevant to your current living situation.  

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