Do Unmarried Couples Living Together in Louisiana Have Community Property Rights?
In many states, couples who live together for a certain amount of time enter into what is considered a “common law” marriage together. They may never have gone through a ceremony and had that marriage recognized by the state, but they share their lives and have the same basic spousal rights as if they were married–including the right to community property in a divorce.
Louisiana is not one of those states.
Louisiana does not recognize common law marriages. In order to have a marriage recognized in Louisiana, you must go through the steps to legally get married, including filing your marriage with the state. That has an impact on how Louisiana manages community property.
What are Community Property Rights?
In Louisiana, when you are married, your spouse has the right to half of all the income you earn during your marriage. If you purchase a house during your marriage, for example, half of that house belongs to each of you. Any property that you purchase during your marriage belongs to both spouses.
Community property includes any income during the years of your marriage as well as any shared property. In a Louisiana divorce, you cannot simply argue, for example, that one spouse made the majority of the money and should, therefore, receive the majority of those assets. Instead, most of the time, the courts demand a fair split of all community property. This may extend to retirement accounts as well as savings accounts or physical assets.
Community property does not, however, apply to assets owned by either spouse prior to marriage. If, for example, you owned a home before your spouse moved in, you will not necessarily have to split the value of that house with your spouse in a divorce. Likewise, if you have investments or other assets from prior to your marriage, you can often keep those during your divorce.
Do Unmarried Couples Living Together Have Community Property Rights?
No. Unmarried couples living together in Louisiana do not have community property rights. Because Louisiana does not recognize common law marriage, it also does not recognize the right of those couples to split property evenly. If you decide to dissolve a relationship with a partner you lived with, but were not legally married to, you cannot demand a fair split of community property. In most cases, you will have to decide how to manage most of your assets on your own–and chances are, the partner who actually earned them will be able to keep things like retirement accounts or the money in personal accounts, personal possessions, and any property held in their name.
Are There Any Cases in Which Unmarried Couples Have Community Property Rights?
In order to establish that you have community property rights, you will need to establish that you and your former partner were considered married in another state that does recognize common law marriage. If you lived together in that state as spouses, and you can prove that you were considered common law married under the laws of that state, Louisiana courts may uphold that marriage and apply community property rights. However, in order to do so, you will need to find witnesses and/or evidence to show that you lived and presented yourselves as a married couple.
What Happens if My Unmarried Partner and I Split Up in Louisiana?
If you split up with a partner you were never married to in Louisiana, even if you have lived together for some time and share all the attributes of a married couple, you have little legal recourse when it comes to splitting assets. If you have shared property–a house in both of your names, or a vehicle you purchased together and recorded in both your names–you will need to decide together how you will handle splitting up that property.
Legally speaking, any assets held in one of your names belong to the party that holds those possessions. Your personal accounts, if they are held in only one name, will remain your personal account. Likewise, if your vehicle is in your name, it belongs to you. The same applies to any business or retirement assets: they belong to the partner that is named on those assets, even if the two of you have shared those assets over the years. You may have legal recourse only in the case of shared assets that have both parties named on them.
How Can I Protect Myself if I Live with My Partner, But Am Not Married?
Moving in with your partner is a big step. Many couples choose not to move further toward marriage after they move in together. Whether you have just decided to move in with a partner you are not married to or you have been living together for years, make sure you’re taking steps to protect yourself in the event that you decide to split up. You may want to:
Make sure that your name is on important assets. If only your partner’s name is on those assets, you may have few options if you decide to split up later. Make sure your name is on any purchases that you make together. Pay particular attention to assets that you may need most, including your vehicle or home.
Maintain your own accounts. Keep your own savings and checking accounts. If you do share an account with your partner to make it easier to pay bills, consider paying into a separate account weekly or monthly, rather than making that your primary account.
Have some savings of your own. A little money set aside in savings can provide a much-needed buffer if you and your partner decide to split.
Even though Louisiana is not a common law state, you may still need the assistance of an attorney as you divide your assets following a breakup with a partner you lived with. If you need legal advice about what steps you should take as you work to dissolve your relationship and distribute your assets, contact Betsy A. Fischer, LLC today at 504-780-8232.