Reed v. Parrish – Domestic Partnership Separations Prove Tricky

More and more frequently, couples are choosing to live together, buy homes and have children without first getting married. meeting.jpg

Our Highland divorce lawyers know that while divorce cases tend to be fairly straightforward under state law, those who simply cohabit or have a domestic partnership tend to have a tougher time securing their rightful belonings. That’s because Indiana outlawed common law marriage back in 1958, and the state’s constitution expressly bars recognition of same-sex marriages.

There is the principal of per lex loci celebrationis, which essentially allows common law marriages recognized in other states to be recognized in Indiana, but Indiana residents themselves aren’t afforded this protection. (This is all addressed in IC 31-11-8-5 and IC 31-11-8-0.3, which states marriages are void unless they are accompanied by legal proceedings.)

That’s why these cases require an attorney with proven experience in this realm.

Our firm has handled countless cases for individuals who were not married, and yet shared property, debts or children.

This is what was at issue in Reed v. Parrish. Although this case was out of Alaska, and divorce laws can vary greatly from state-to-state, the same basic principles apply.

In this case, the couple had been in a relationship together for a dozen years and had three children together, yet never married. They resided in a home that was legally owned by the man. The pair separated and, pursuant to a domestic violence protection order, the woman remained in the home with the children while the man paid the mortgage.

The superior court in this case determined the pair were living in a domestic partnership, and had sought to acquire property as though they were married. It’s worth noting that the state of Indiana does not recognize such a union as valid.

The court then evenly distributed the property, but omitted the mortgage payments. The man appealed, arguing the court failed to properly credit him for his mortgage payments made after the pair had separated.

The superior court’s decision was recently affirmed by the state supreme court.

Because Indiana doesn’t have these kinds of protections in place for individuals who are not married, there are a few options couples might consider while they are still together to protect their asset later. One is a property agreement. This can be a legally binding contract that stipulates ownership or joint ownership at the time of purchase.

You also have the option of separation agreements. These are essentially contracts that are negotiated prior to separation that spell out how property and assets may be divided in the event of a split.

The bottom line is that if you don’t have a marriage license with the spouse from whom you’re separating, you’re going to need an experienced family law attorney in order to ensure your rights and property are protected.

Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary, Hammond and Calumet City. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:
Reed v. Parish, Oct. 19, 2012, Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, Justia Case Files

More Blog Entries:
Indiana Supreme Court to Consider Revamping Child Custody Rules, Oct. 2, 2012, Highland Divorce Lawyer Blog