Unmarried couples: consider challenges when buying property together

From young adults to seniors, unmarried people often buy property together. However, it’s not uncommon for unmarried couples to run into problems later. Younger couples are particularly vulnerable. With less experience in life, they’re sometimes more inclined to let emotions rule and believe their relationship will last forever.

When older people choose to live together, they often don’t have as many financial issues because they’ve had more life experiences. When unmarried young people buy their first house together, they often don’t think about future ownership issues.

In a divorce, by law, married couples generally split property 50-50. That isn’t true for unmarried couples. Wisconsin doesn’t recognize “common law marriage,” a status allowed by some other states for couples who have been together for a number of years. In fact, Wisconsin does not have any special status in the law for unmarried relationships.

When buying property, ownership on legal documents is critical. Is the house purchased as joint tenants with right of survivorship—meaning the survivor gets the entire property if the other dies? Or is it bought as tenants in common, which means each owns half the house, and one party could leave their share in the house to someone else.

Sometimes the situation is even more difficult. A dominant person in the relationship, for example, may only want one name on the title, but the other still thinks he/she has an interest in the house because of contributions to the mortgage or significant improvements to the house. After a breakup, the person unnamed on the deed learns otherwise.

It may be wise to write a contract—which is almost like a pre-marital agreement—before the purchase when everyone is calm, in agreement and wants to be fair.

With a contract, you determine ahead of time what happens if you are no longer together.  It’s harder to agree after a breakup and harder to fight for your share of the property if there is no agreement beforehand.

For more information on buying or dividing property as a couple, contact Maureen Kinney orBrian Weber at 608-784-5678.


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