Separation of Unmarried Couples

Today, many heterosexual and same-sex couples are forming long-term family units without being legally married.  In the course of the relationship, couples accumulate assets, have children, and contribute to retirement plans, much the same as they would if they were married.

When the relationship ends, assets and liabilities must be divided.  If children are involved, child custody and placement-time matters must be addressed. We represent clients in all aspects of separation matters.

Understanding Wisconsin Law and Unmarried Couple Separation

building - 0H8A0555In Wisconsin, there is no “common law marriage.”  Therefore, when a couple is not legally married, they cannot be legally divorced.  As a result, the rights that each spouse may have in a divorce, such as potential spousal support, do not apply.

Each partner’s right to assets is often much less clear than it would be in a divorce.  In general, assets purchased by one of the partners prior to the couple’s relationship will usually continue to be owned by that partner.  With respect to assets acquired after the couple’s relationship, the law is much less clear, and the facts and circumstances will impact how assets must be divided.

In some relationships, partners will have made clear decisions about property ownership – such as what you purchase is yours, and what I purchase is mine.  In other cases, the couple may decide that one person pays the bills, while the other pays for furniture (or perhaps makes the mortgage payments).  In these situations, the partner paying the bills may have an equitable interest in the furniture or even a home.

We help clients understand how the law may pertain to their potential property rights, and seek for them the assets to which they may be entitled.  In most cases asset division can be accomplished through a settlement agreement; if this cannot be achieved, a civil partition action may be required, which is a legal action to determine the rights of each of the parties to assets.

Custody and Placement Time

When an unmarried couple with children separate, each of the parents will essentially have the same rights with respect to the children as they otherwise would have in a divorce.  The couple will need to determine which parent(s) will have custody of the children, and what the placement schedule should be.  If the couple cannot agree upon custody and placement arrangements, either parent may initiate legal action to have custody and placement judicially determined.

Our representation of a client separating from a long-term partner is much the same as our representation of a divorcing spouse – we learn about our client’s situation and objectives, we explain how the law will likely apply to their matters, we develop possible strategies for proceeding, and we work diligently to achieve the goals of our clients once a strategy has been chosen.

If you are separating from a long-term partner, please call us to find out how we can help you.