Splitting up is always complex and emotional for any couple, married or not.  Challenges may get more complicated if you do not have the protection our state law affords married people.  That is unless, you have done some advanced consideration in case a separation happens. With no clear parameters for property division, legal decision-making for children, parenting time, and support, unmarried couples should address these crucial matters through alternative means and ahead of time. Fortunately, McMurdie Law & Mediation is well-equipped to provide expert guidance on family law matters in Tempe, AZ, with over two decades of experience supporting individuals and couples through these difficult times. This article aims to outline essential steps and legal measures to help establish enforceable agreements for property division, child custody, and support when a long-term, non-marital relationship terminates, ensuring clear expectations and a solid foundation for navigating when you uncouple.

Understanding the Legal Risks for Unmarried Couples

The absence of a divorce process to guide property division and child custody and support arrangements puts unmarried couples at risk. Without the legal protections that formal marriage or divorce proceedings offer, both parties can face challenges in dividing assets, establishing paternity, and securing child support or visitation rights. Understanding these potential hazards can help unmarried couples take proactive steps toward safeguarding their financial and emotional well-being at the end of a long-term relationship.

Property Division: The Impact of No Community Property Protection

For unmarried couples, one of the most significant challenges during a breakup is the division of shared property. Since unmarried couples are not protected by community property laws, they often lack clear guidelines for determining ownership of assets and managing property. Before these situations arise, it is essential to develop a property division plan in advance to ensure an equitable outcome for both parties.

  1. Draft a Cohabitation Agreement: Unmarried couples should consider creating a legally binding cohabitation agreement that explicitly details how property and finances should be divided in the event of a separation. Consulting an experienced attorney to draft this agreement can provide much-needed legal protection and guidance.
  1. Keep Clear Records: Maintain thorough documentation of purchases, property ownership, and financial assets throughout the relationship. Having well-organized records can help establish ownership and clarify property division during the separation process. And if possible, include the intent of the usage of the items such as jewelry or clothing only one can wear; or tools and automobiles that only one of the couple uses.
  1. Communicate Openly: During the separation, engage in transparent discussions with your partner about the division of assets. Being transparent and respectful can help reduce the burden on both parties and pave the way for a more seamless property division process.

Establishing Paternity: The Key to Child Custody, Support, and Visitation

When children are involved in an unmarried couple’s separation, establishing paternity becomes a crucial aspect of child custody, support, and visitation arrangements. Without a formal acknowledgment of paternity, parents can face significant challenges in claiming custody, securing child support, and asserting their visitation rights.

  1. Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity: Establish paternity and maternity as soon as possible, either at the hospital during the birth registration process or soon after. Both parents can voluntarily sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) form, which then legally recognizes the father’s custodial rights and responsibilities.
  1. Legal Paternity Actions: If the father’s paternity is contested, a legal action may be filed with the court to establish the father’s legal rights. In this situation, it is crucial to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney to ensure your parental rights are protected.
  1. DNA Testing: In some cases, DNA testing may be necessary to confirm the biological relationship between the father and the child. The court will order that the test results be produced in order to determine the lineage of children.

Addressing Child Support and Potential Arrears

Without a formal establishment of paternity and a legally binding support agreement, unmarried couples may struggle to secure child support payments. Moreover, the non-custodial parent might face considerable child support arrears once support is finally mandated.

To avoid these issues, it’s essential to negotiate and establish a child support agreement as soon as possible. Involving a skilled family law attorney can provide invaluable guidance in establishing a fair and enforceable child support agreement tailored to unique circumstances.

Creating a Custody and Visitation Agreement

The broad term “child custody” comprises both physical custody, which refers to where the child resides, and legal custody, which pertains to the authority for decision-making in the child’s upbringing. For over a decade now, Arizona references “Parenting Time” for physical custody and “Legal Decision-Making” for legal custody. There are various potential custody arrangements in Arizona, including sole and joint Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time. Sole Parenting Time signifies that one parent has the primary responsibility for the child(ren)’s time. Sole Legal Decision-Making denotes that one parent holds full authority to make significant decisions for the child(ren), such as those related to education and religion.

Similar to child support arrangements, unmarried couples must develop custody, both legal decision-making and parenting time agreements for their children when separating. Parenting plans should focus on the best interests of the children and consider factors such as living arrangements, daily routines, educational needs, social activities, and health care.

  1. Informal Negotiations: Unmarried couples can begin the custody and visitation agreement process through informal negotiations to establish a framework for their parenting plan. Both parties should discuss their individual preferences and attempt to reach a consensus on key issues.
  1. Mediation: If informal negotiations do not result in an agreement, mediation can provide a structured environment for parents to resolve their disputes openly and constructively with the guidance of a neutral mediator.
  1. Court Intervention: If mediation fails and the parents are unable to reach an agreement, court intervention may be necessary to resolve custody and visitation disputes. Involving a knowledgeable family law attorney is crucial to ensure that your child’s best interests are represented and protected in court.

Navigating the complex and emotionally charged issues of property division, child custody, support, and visitation in the absence of a formal divorce process can be daunting for unmarried couples. Understanding the legal risks and seeking professional assistance from an experienced family law attorney are crucial steps in addressing these challenges. Implementing proactive measures, such as creating cohabitation agreements, establishing paternity, and negotiating support and custody arrangements, can help safeguard both parties’ financial, emotional, and familial interests during and after the separation process.

Secure Your Family’s Future with McMurdie Law & Mediation

As an unmarried couple facing separation, navigating the complexities of property division, child custody, support, and visitation can be challenging and overwhelming. McMurdie Law & Mediation understands the importance of protecting your family’s interests, and with close to three decades of experience in family law matters in Tempe, AZ, their expert team is ready to assist you in establishing clear, legally sound agreements tailored to your unique situation. Don’t leave your family’s future to chance – trust McMurdie Law & Mediation to provide the guidance and support you need during this critical time. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with a property division lawyer and take the first step toward safeguarding your family’s well-being and financial security.