Uncoupled: A Mediator’s Analysis

I’ve been watching Uncoupled on Netflix, and besides really enjoying a new show with Neil Patrick Harris (I mean, who doesn’t love him??), my divorce mediator brain doesn’t just shut off at night. It got me thinking about couples who may be together for a very long time and were never married. Now for anyone who hasn’t watched Uncoupled yet (and I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t!), it’s about a real estate broker, Michael, whose boyfriend of 17 years, Colin, tells him he’s leaving him. To Michael’s surprise, Colin has already rented a new apartment and moved his stuff out. The show follows Michael as newly single and dating again in his 40s in New York.

It may only be because I’m a family law mediator. Still, my mind immediately started thinking about how they would divide their joint property up, what would happen to their apartment (that they seemingly own together, although it’s never 100% clear), and if Colin, who is the higher earner in this situation would owe support if they had been married and going through a divorce. Now the show doesn’t focus on any of these aspects except for a few references to how Colin made more money than Michael and how Michael is stuck paying off expenses on a surprise birthday party he threw for Colin the night Colin said he was leaving.

A Marvin action is a legal claim to enforce expressed or implied agreements for support or property sharing between non-marital partners after a split since unmarried partners do not have automatic rights like a married couple would in a divorce. It gets me thinking, however, about how this is often the case when a couple has been together for a very long time and yet were not married. Now, if they lived in California while they would not be recognized as common law spouses (and this does differ by state), there could be an argument for a Marvin Action. However, they can be complicated and expensive cases to litigate and win. Absent a Marvin action, then none of their income would have been community property and they would have only really been entitled to what they had bought with their income in their names.

How Would They Separate Assets?

If it seems they purchased their apartment together, it might depend on who’s money was paid for the down payment, whose name is on the title, and who had been paying on the mortgage (assuming there was one) as to who the place would belong to. Now in the show, it seems as though Colin probably would have put more money into the place since he made more money (I believe he was a hedge fund manager). However, it’s not clear; in fact, he moves out and leaves Michael alone. However, if he did want to argue, it’s possible that the apartment would have been solely Colin’s property. Another thing to consider is if there was still a mortgage on the property, would Michael have been able to continue paying the mortgage on his own without Colin since he wouldn’t be entitled to any spousal support. While Michael does work as a realtor for high-end properties in New York, the show does allude a few times to him needing his next commission check.

Cohabitation Agreement

One way to deal with these issues if you are with your partner for a long time and especially important if you’re living together is to create a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement lets you both consider what would happen if you broke up and weren’t married. My now husband and I put one in place when we purchased our house before we got married to make sure that we understood what belonged to who in case things didn’t work out so well. It got us starting to talk about our finances and agree that when we did get married, we would also have a premarital agreement (or prenup as they’re referred to). It made it much easier when we got engaged and married to know that we had to plan time to get our prenup done before the wedding.

If you are in a relationship with someone you are not married to and maybe even not even planning to be married to and would like assistance in discussing a cohabitation agreement, contact (858) 736-2411 to talk with of our mediators. We provide a free virtual consultation to see if we’re a good fit.

by: Amanda Singer

Amanda Singer with west coast family mediation center

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