Cohabitation “Divorce” in Mississippi

Today, more and more U.S. couples are living together before, or instead of, getting married.  Cohabitation has become the new “norm” with nearly half of all women reporting that their “first union” was cohabitating with their male partner.  Cohabitating has become a modern day phenomenon, with an ever increasing number of couples electing to move in with one another instead of marry.

Recent data suggests that cohabitating couples face the same challenges as married ones.  A new study shows that the average length of cohabitation relationships is 22 months.  Within three years of cohabitating, 27% of couples broke up, while 40% married and another 32% remained living with one another.  Children are often added to these unions, with 19% of women giving birth within the first year of cohabitation.  Sadly, over 75% of children born to unwed couples do not live with both parents by their 15th birthday.

 The termination of a cohabitation relationship, which now often involves the accumulation of joint property, debts, and children, has become more akin to a divorce than a simple break up.  Here is a look at some legal issues concerning cohabitation “divorces”:

  1. Mississippi’s divorce laws will not apply for cohabitating couples who separate—many states used to recognize “common law marriage,” wherein couples were regarded as married when they lived together, shared property, and considered themselves husband and wife.  However, Mississippi, along with many other states, no longer recognizes common law marriage.  Accordingly, divorce laws will not apply to cohabitating break ups.
  2. Each partner is presumed to own his or her property and debts—just like married couples, property acquired individually before the relationship started is presumed to be independently owned.  Unlike married couples, however, property acquired during the cohabitating relationship is also presumed to be individually owned, unless circumstances indicate otherwise.  Therefore, if one partner buys a home during the relationship with her separate funds and her name only on the title, that home will belong to this partner alone.  Contrast this to a married woman whose husband, even if she purchased the home with her own monies, would be presumed to own half the property as it was acquired during the marriage.
  3. Deliberately combining asset or signing an agreement to share assets can overcome the presumption of separate property—by taking actions like opening joint bank accounts, purchasing a home in both your names, or signing a written contract to share assets, a cohabitating couple can overcome the presumption that their property is independently owned.
  4. For shared assets, 50/50 ownership is presumed—if an unmarried couple jointly owns assets, the law presumes they own them 50/50 unless they could show otherwise; say, if one partner made a greater contribution toward the purchase.
  5. Child support and child custody issues are handled in substantially the same manner—for children born of the relationship, child support and child custody are subject to the same laws as for any married couple.  The cohabitating couple typically has a chance to decide these issues outside of court, but may wind up in court if they are unable to reach an agreement.
  6. Generally, you will not be entitled to alimony following a break up—even if you were dependent upon the other partner during the relationship, you will not typically be able to receive any sort of alimony type support.
  7. Division of assets will be handled like a business arrangement—you will not go before a family court judge; rather, if the court becomes involved in the division of a cohabitating couple’s assets and debts, it will be handled in the business section of court.
  8. A living together agreement can protect your rights—a written living together agreement will set out the division of your assets and debts in the event of a break up.  This can greatly assist cohabitating couples and prevent the need for court involvement in the event of a break up.

Matthew S. Poole has substantial experience advising cohabitating couples on their legal rights and responsibilities.  Call The Law Office of Matthew S. Poole today at (601) 573-7429 for a free initial consultation.  

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