Ending a long-term relationship is rarely easy. You have likely spent years sharing your life and home with your partner. You may have made significant decisions regarding your children and finances based on your relationship. Should your relationship end, you need to decide how to separate shared assets, child custody, and your career from it.
If you are married or in a domestic partnership, there are well-defined legal pathways for resolving these concerns. However, many people opt not to take these legal steps, leading to many long-term relationships that are not bound by these regulations. This can actually make the process of ending these relationships more complex. Below, we discuss some of the complications involved in ending long-term relationships without the assistance of divorce proceedings and how to address these issues in California.
Why Ending a Long-Term Relationship May Involve Complications
Many people opt not to get married because they believe it is simpler. However, ending any long-term relationship can take effort if certain circumstances are present. Even if you and your partner never married, you may still need to address the following concerns after you end your relationship:
- Income and support: If your relationship is not legally recognized, you are not eligible for spousal support after it ends. If you sacrificed your career to care for your household while your partner worked, you might be in a difficult situation if the relationship ends.
- Child custody and support: California automatically awards parentage of a baby to the spouse or domestic partner of a person who gives birth. However, if you were unmarried, your partner needs to voluntarily claim parentage, or you need to pursue legal action to have them named your child’s legal parent. Without this, matters like child support and custody may be difficult to address.
- Shared assets: Spouses automatically receive joint ownership of marital assets in California, but unmarried couples do not. If you and your partner lived together, shared ownership of a car, or otherwise shared assets, you will need a fair way to determine who owned them and who should retain them after you separate.
Solutions to Common Issues Facing Unmarried Life Partners Post-Separation
Being unmarried makes separating more complicated, but not impossible. All of the above concerns have solutions under California law. Here are solutions for the most common issues facing unmarried partners when they end their relationships.
Unmarried couples do not have access to spousal support (“alimony”) in California, but there is an alternative. Marvin actions, also known as Marvin claims or colloquially as “palimony,” are a type of civil claim available to unmarried people.
Marvin actions allow former romantic partners to pursue support from the other party. They stem from the case Marvin v. Marvin, in which Michelle Marvin sued actor and former partner Lee Marvin for support payments after their relationship ended. The California Supreme Court determined that non-marital partners had the right to pursue this kind of support through civil courts as a matter of contract law, not family law.
If you had a written, verbal, or implied agreement with your partner in which they supported you financially while you performed tasks like maintaining the house and raising children, you might have grounds for a Marvin action. These actions can lead the court to order regular payments similar to spousal support, allowing you to maintain your standard of living until you can support yourself.
If you or your partner has given birth to a child after the end of your relationship, it may be necessary to pursue a parentage or paternity action for this child. A paternity action allows parents to seek legal recognition of both of their child’s parents.
For example, a mother may file a paternity action against her child’s alleged father to determine whether he is genuinely related to the child. Meanwhile, a father can file a paternity action against the mother of his child to prove his relationship with them. In both of these situations, a successful paternity action names the father as the child’s legal parent, granting him the rights and responsibilities that entails.
Paternity actions are critical for child support and custody. Mothers often pursue paternity actions to ensure that the father pays child support, while fathers file them to win the right to spend time with their children. Whatever your relationship with the child in question, a paternity action can ensure they don’t suffer because your relationship ended.
Dividing Commingled Assets
Dividing shared assets may or may not be difficult. If both of your names are on the deed, title, or account, the process may be as simple as splitting the asset in half or according to your contributions towards it. For instance, if you jointly purchased a car, your partner could buy out your share of the vehicle and get it titled in their name alone.
This requires your partner to be willing to collaborate with you, though. If they are unwilling to negotiate, or if you co-owned assets but your name is not attached to them, you may need to take legal action.
You can request your fair share of these assets in a civil lawsuit. As with a Marvin action, this is considered a matter of contract law. By contributing to the asset’s purchase, you may have formed an implicit contract that your partner must honor. However, the details of these cases are complex, so it is in your best interest to work with an experienced attorney.
Simplify Your Separation with Expert Legal Representation
You do not need to face the end of your relationship alone. If your long-term relationship is over, you can work with the expert family law attorneys at Madigan Lewis, LLP, to address any remaining legal concerns. Reach out to our San Mateo law office today to learn how we can help you resolve legal issues surrounding the end of your long-term relationship today.