In recent years, an increasing number of unmarried couples have been opting to purchase property together. While this may seem like a straightforward process, there are actually a number of legal considerations that come into play when this scenario occurs. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the key issues that unmarried couples need to be aware of when it comes to property rights in San Diego, California.

California Does Not Recognize Common Law Marriage

We’ll start the discussion by pointing out a few key aspects of California law and it relates to the property rights of unmarried couples.

While some states will consider a couple married as it relates to property rights after they’ve lived a certain amount of time together (among other factors), California does not. One implication of this is that unmarried couples are not able to utilize the state’s “community property” framework. 

Under the community property framework, property acquired by either spouse during the marriage is presumed to be owned equally by each person. The couple need not enter into any sort of agreement prior to acquiring the property in order to establish these rights.

We’ll now take a look at various considerations regarding how an unmarried couple could purchase property together in California.

Who Owns the Property by Default?

In California, the owner of the property is the person who purchased it or who inherited it by default. If the property was purchased during the course of the relationship, then the person who put down the deposit or made the mortgage payments is presumed to be the owner of the property. 

However, this presumption can be rebutted in a legal proceeding by providing evidence that: 

  • The deposit was paid with joint funds
  • The mortgage payments were made with joint funds
  • The property was purchased with the intention that both partners would share ownership equally 

These are the kinds of considerations that can come up during a legal dispute between an unmarried couple when they’ve purchased property together without a clear direction or understanding. 

How Can Unmarried Couples Establish Clear Property Rights?

To avoid the sort of situation described above, an unmarried couple can sign an overarching cohabitation agreement that contains, in part, how the couple would like to handle property acquired during the course of their relationship. 

They might also choose to sign an agreement regarding a major purchase, like the purchase of a home. These agreements can make it clear how the property will be divided should the couple separate. One option might be to purchase the property as joint tenants, and another option is tenancy in common.

What Happens if One Person Wants To Sell? 

If the couple has signed an agreement like those described above, the sale of the property will be handled according to those terms. But if there is no such agreement or the agreement doesn’t cover the scenario where one person wants to sell the property, and the other does not, then either:  

  • The person who wants to sell must buy out the other person’s interest in the property; or 
  • The parties must go through court proceedings to have a judge order a sale of the property.  

If one person dies, unless there is clear evidence that he or she intended for someone else to have ownership of his or her interest in the property, that interest generally passes to his or her heirs according to California’s intestate succession laws. This means that if you’re not married and your partner dies, you may not be the one who keeps ownership of the property.

Speak With a San Diego Family Law Attorney Today

Understanding your property rights as an unmarried couple is important, but it’s not easy. If you have any questions about your property rights, speak with an experienced family law attorney in San Diego, California. Contact Sachdev Legal Group, APC, today to discuss your options.

Contact Our Family Law Firm in San Diego, CA

Contact our experienced San Diego family law lawyers at Sachdev Legal Group, APC today for legal assistance. Contact our San Diego office at (619) 866-3756 to schedule a free consultation.

Sachdev Legal Group, APC
2851 Camino del Rio S #430
San Diego, CA 92108