COVID-19 has put enormous strain on all our relationships including marriages and domestic partnerships. The pressure of the pandemic has caused many couples to reevaluate their long-term relationships and part ways. While divorce is a fairly straightforward solution for unhappily married couples, fewer Millennials have opted to tie the knot which can create more logistical headaches when the domestic partnership dissolves.
Shunning what some perceive as a “dated legal contract” Millennials may be less inclined to marry but they still commingle money, property, and other financial obligations. It’s only after the relationship ends that they realize the challenges and expenses involved with unwinding those monetary commitments. It’s a growing trend that Vice coined the “Millennial Divorce” which describes the complexities these couples face when attempting to divide assets, property, or secure financial support without a legal contract. According to researchers at Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research, marriage rates hit an all-time low of 6.5 marriages per 1000 people in 2018 and 2020 doesn’t appear to reverse that trend.
Common-law marriage is not recognized in California but unmarried couples who cohabitate and have a long-term relationship may have rights to financial support and property. Unmarried parties can enforce promises of support or property rights through a separate civil action in state court known as a Marvin claim. The court will look closely at the conduct of the parties to determine whether there was an implied contract, agreement of partnership, a joint venture, or any other basis of understanding between the parties. Pursuing a Marvin claim can be costly, however, due to litigation expenses that can involve hiring experts such as forensic accountants or economists.
Domestic partners can and should protect themselves from going down a path of protracted litigation by creating a Domestic Partnership Agreement. The contract works much like a Prenuptial Agreement that couples draft before they get married by outlining how to keep finances separate, protect one partner from the other partner’s debts, and secure the interest of any dependents if the couple has children. The agreement can also include real estate, vehicles, stocks, bank accounts, business ownership, and personal belongings that you may have acquired during the domestic partnership. It allows you to categorize debts as separate property to ensure one partner is not responsible for paying off the debt of the other if the relationship ends. These agreements can also dictate what will happen to you or your partner’s assets and income in the unforeseen circumstance of separation or death.
California law has recently expanded to offer new rights to domestic partners which include the right to make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner, the right to take sick leave from work to care for an ailing partner, and the right to inherit a partner’s estate if the partner dies without a will.
While some Millennials may feel marriage is outdated, protecting yourself and your assets is very much in vogue. Setting legal parameters is important, regardless of age, to protect yourself and your financial future. By creating a legal document that establishes the terms of your relationship both partners can obtain a sense of security and shared responsibility in these uncertain times.
by Debra Schoenberg