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How do separating unmarried couples deal with property division?

What happens to the family home when an unmarried couple decides to end the relationship? Many Massachusetts residents likely know the basic options regarding property division available to a separating couple who has been legally married. However, with an increasing number of couples living together without being married, and many of those owning a home together, the question of property division in the event of a split is important for many to address. 

In a legal sense, married couples who divorce and own a home together have a clear set of rules to follow regarding property division. They have several options, including one person buying the other out, a delayed buyout, or selling the home and splitting the profit. In addition, if the divorcing couple cannot agree on what to do with the house, the court can intervene and force the sale of the property. If an unmarried couple who own a home together split, the court has no such power to force the sale if one side does not want to do so and the other does. In order to sell, both parties must agree to do so. 

Given the potential complications of property division in the event of an unmarried couple, many experts recommend entering the union with a contract, sometimes called a "cohabitation agreement." Among other points, the written document should cover things like what to do with the home if the union ends and who's going to decide the outcome if a dispute does arise when dividing assets. Much like with a prenuptial agreement, many people may find the subject difficult to broach with their partner, as no one wants to imagine the end of the relationship. However, experts stress the value of getting it in writing, and like a prenup, the couple can hire a lawyer to help them with this process.

While every couple, married or not, likes to think they will live happily ever after in their home together, the reality indicates that not every couple will stay together and not every breakup will be amicable. Massachusetts couples who are cohabiting without a legal union and who have purchased or are planning to purchase property together will greatly benefit from planning ahead in case fair property division becomes a problem. An experienced family law attorney can help them prepare such a contract.

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