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#505 Living together: Other considerations

mp3 #505 Living Together - Other Considerations (mp3 file)


Family Law matters are very complex. Many who try to handle these matters on their own quickly find themselves overwhelmed and out of favor with the courts. Often times costs are cited as the reason for self representation. However, most people with assets and retirement plans stand to lose significant amounts of money, or worse, lose custody of their children if they are not properly represented. Continue here to be referred to an experienced and insured Family Law attorney:


Increasing numbers of people in California are living together without being married. They may be people of the opposite sex, or people of the same sex. They may be having a sexual relationship while living together, or they may be living together mainly to save money, or for companionship and mutual protection.

This message will talk about debts, property, bank accounts, charge accounts, credit, buying a motor vehicle, travel, taxes, welfare, and death and insurance, as these topics relate to people who are living together without being married.

When you live with someone else, you do not thereby assume any responsibility for their debts. Your wages cannot be attached, and liens cannot be placed on your property, to pay for your friend's debts. If your friend declares bankruptcy, that will not affect your property, as long as you have kept your property separate from the property of your friend.

Property you own before you start living together belongs to you alone, but what about property acquired after you get together? To avoid problems of who owns what, the simplest solution is to keep your property and debts separate. You may want to enter into a written agreement with your friend agreeing to keep all your earnings and property separate. Useful sample agreements are found in low-cost books about living together, written by California attorneys. Such books may be found in your local bookstore, or at your public library. You may prefer to have an attorney draw up your agreement or to review an agreement you have written yourself.

Try to avoid joint accounts, and avoid making joint purchases. Keep your own separate bank account, and do not add your friend's signature to your charge accounts. Do not co-sign loans or credit agreements for your friend, unless you are willing and able to make the payments even after your relationship has ended. If you do find it necessary to make expensive joint purchases, make a written agreement that tells how the item is being paid for, and what will happen if you break up your relationship, or if one of you dies. If you do decide to have a joint bank account, you may want to require both of your signatures for any withdrawals; otherwise one person can take all the money out of the account without the other person's permission. The same requirement can be used if you decide to have a joint credit account; two signatures may be required in order to charge anything. Otherwise, one partner may run up the account, and the other partner may end up paying all the bills. If you have joint accounts and then you break up, be sure to inform all your creditors that the joint account is to be closed immediately. Otherwise you may end up paying for your former partner's purchases which are made after your relationship ends.

If the two of you make a joint purchase of a motor vehicle, you should have a written agreement. There are three ways of registering your jointly owned vehicle with the state. The first way is to register the vehicle in the names of both Dick Jones or Jane Smith. If one of you dies, the surviving owner will have title to the vehicle without going through probate. However, this form of registration permits either owner to sell the vehicle at any time without letting the other person know of the sale.

A second way to register the vehicle is in the names of Dick Jones and Jane Smith. If one of you dies, the surviving owner may have to go through probate in order to obtain title to the vehicle. However, this form of registration requires the signatures of both owners before transferring title to the vehicle; one person cannot sell it without the other person's consent.

A third way is to register the vehicle in the names of Dick Jones and Jane Smith in joint tenancy with right of survivorship. This method requires both signatures before title can be transferred, and if one owner dies, the survivor may obtain title to the vehicle without going through probate.

When traveling and stopping in hotels or motels, how do you register when you check in? Often only one name and only one signature are needed on the registration card, along with the number of people who will be occupying the room. Even if the hotel or motel requests that you each sign your name, however, it is not likely that anyone will inquire about your marital status. Today there are many married couples who keep and use their birth names after they are married.

What about the income taxes that you pay? Are you better off married, or are you better off living together without being married? It all depends on the composition of your family, and who earns how much. For example, if the two people who are living together have very different incomes, then they will probably pay higher taxes than two people who are married, especially if the person with the lower income also has dependents. If you are not married to the person with whom you are living, it is illegal for the two of you to file a joint tax return. However, you may claim your roommate and your roommate's children as dependents, if certain conditions are met, such as living with you for the entire year as part provided for more than half of their support, they each have no earned more than a specified amount, and they meet certain residency requirements.

What about welfare assistance under the aid to families with dependent children program (known as CalWorks)? May a woman receiving CalWorks live with an unrelated man and still receive her monthly check? Her check will not be reduced or cut off, as long as the man is not the father of any of her children, and he is not actually contributing to her support, or the support of her children. The man will be required to contribute his income up to an amount which is his fair share of the family's expenses, but only for his expenses. If the man pays no more than what the welfare department considers the minimum monthly contribution for his expenses, then the family will not lose CalWorks benefits, and you will not lose Medi-Cal benefits either. However, your food stamps may be cut off or reduced, if the man has a substantial income and if everyone is eating together.

If one partner dies, and there is no will, the surviving partner will receive none of the deceased partner's separate property, under California law. If you want your friend to receive any of your property after you die, you must name your friend, and what your friend is to receive, in a valid written will. Or you may place your property in joint tenancy ownership with your partner, or make your partner a beneficiary of your life insurance, or set up a trust for your partner, or make some other plan to provide for your partner after you die.

Unmarried couples are now able to obtain life insurance, at the same rates as married couples. It is not available from all insurance companies, but by shopping around you will be able to find insurance agents and insurance companies who are sympathetic to your situation. The same is true of automobile insurance, where it is less expensive for you to have one insurance policy for two cars, than it is to have two separate policies, one on each car. Unmarried couples are usually unable to obtain free or reduced rate coverage for their living together partner, on the health insurance that comes with their job. There is nothing illegal about this type of discrimination, which allows married couples free or reduced rate coverage for the spouse of the covered worker. The Social Security program also discriminates against unmarried couples, because a non-working partner receives no benefit from the working partner's Social Security account, while married couples do receive these benefits.

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