Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

How does a court divide an unmarried couple's property?

The end of a relationship can bring about a number of difficulties for Salt Lake City residents. Beyond the emotional toll on the individual, there are often many logistical issues to figure out. For example, while the process of dividing property between unmarried couples may be similar in many respects to the process that takes place after a divorce, the law may apply differently for a dispute between unmarried couples.

The process of property division may also differ depending on the particular property involved, and whether it is personal or real property. Real property may be owned by joint tenants with right of survivorship, by tenants in common, or otherwise.

In some cases, a couple can agree that one individual gets to keep the real property, such as a house, while the other party gets a share of money to compensate for his or her interest. However, this may not be possible if one side does not have the funds to buy out the other.

If a couple cannot agree to divide their property or if it is simply not possible, it may be necessary to seek a partition. This means the property will be divided by legal action between the couple. Typically, this means the court will order that the property be sold, with each party receiving money from the sale in compensation for that person's interest in the property.

When the property is sold, liens on the property will need to be taken care of, as well as any tax implications. Accordingly, it may not be clear cut what final amount will be received by each individual. Moreover, there may be other transactions or expenses between an unmarried couple that have to be considered by the court before the final payout can be made.

Ultimately, unmarried couples should recognize that there are ways in which their property can be divided after a break-up. However, the law differs from that which applies to married couples, so it is vital that individuals understand these differences and how they apply in each case.

Source: American Bar, "Home ownership and unmarried couples," Stephanie Hill, accessed on Nov. 14, 2015

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