Since I practice divorce and family law, I often receive calls and contacts from people who are in the midst of a breakup with their partner to whom they are not married. In some instances, the fact that they are not married is fortunate, and in some instances, it is unfortunate.
The law defines marital property as real property, personal property and pension benefits acquired by one or both spouses during their marriage. Everything that either or both spouses owns is presumed marital regardless of how title is held. One or both spouses may have non-marital claims that they can establish by overcoming the marital presumption, which is a subject for another article.
The point of this article is that if you are not married, then there is no benefit (or burden) of the designation of marital property. It matters how title is held. And it matters which party paid for property items.
If a home appreciates in value while a couple is married, both spouses are entitled to a fair share of the value of the appreciation. If a home appreciates in value while an unmarried couple co-resides in the home, only the titled owner is entitled to the value of the home (including the appreciation in value during the co-residence).
If a married couple breaks up, it is usually the case that each party is entitled to a car. But if an unmarried couple breaks up, then it depends on who paid for each car.
The reference above to it being fortunate or unfortunate that the parties are not married correlates, of course, to whether the difference in the parties’ respective claims due to not being married is advantageous or disadvantageous. Typically if there is one party that is financially dependent on the other, then being unmarried is disadvantageous to the financially dependent party, and advantageous to the other.
Moreover, if there is the need to address a dispute in court between two unmarried individuals who are breaking up, that dispute will not be addressed in family court, but will belong in civil court. If the amount in dispute is less than $15,000, the matter can be addressed in conciliation court. Otherwise, it is handled as a civil dispute in district court.