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Attorney Gregory P. Lee
When unmarried couples separate, they face the same issues that divorcing couples do.  They often have children together.  They own personal property and sometimes real estate together.  They may have jointly incurred debts, though often only under the name and credit rating of one or the other.

What they lack, unfortunately, is a single legal action to resolve all of their disputes.   In facts, courts are reluctant to enter most of these frays, because these couples have not chosen to enter the legally defined contract of marriage, with all of its clear and protected contractual terms and rights.  The Massachusetts courts have made clear that marriage is not just a piece of paper -- it is a status giving the parties rights in one another's property and income.  Those rights do not accrue if the parties are not married.  

Child-related matters -- custody, parenting time, and support -- are the only issues of unmarried partners that are easily  resolved through the courts.  For the most part, the resolutions of custody and child support are the same as in divorce.

Unmarried parties have the right to seek protection against violence in the Probate and Family Court and the District Court.

Other matters may also be resolved in the Probate and Family Court.  Joint ownership of real estate is resolved through a Petition to Partition, which usually results in a sale of land.  Ownership of some personal property may be resolved through equity actions, though the Probate and Family Court is reluctant to deal with such matters in the absence of clear contracts. 

Occupancy of non-joint real estate may have to be resolved through separate equitable actions, or through summary process eviction in the District and Housing Courts. 

Thus, as difficult as divorce may be, marriage still has a unique benefit:  the right to have a single court determine the parties’ rights and obligations in a single legal action.

 
For unmarried couples the law: 

Allows entry of “temporary orders” to determine temporary custody, child support, and other issues.

Allows discovery and investigation into factual matters, including subpoena power.

Gives parties time to “cool off” while also imposing time standards for resolution.

Court appearances and other mandates discourage foot-dragging and obstruction by parties and their representatives.


Call or e-mail attorney Gregory Lee for further information.



 

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