Readers of this Orange County family law blog may know that marriage gives legally joined partners certain rights the couple's community property. Generally speaking, between married people property may be classified as community property or separate property. While separate property is generally the property that people own before they marry, community property includes property acquired by either spouse during the marriage.
However, when unmarried couples live together and begin making purchases together they do not acquire the same rights under California property law as married couples do. There is no automatic assumption that the property of one will pass directly to the other upon the death of one of the unmarried partners; a will or other legal document would have to be executed, or real property titled in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, in order for a non-married partner to receive his or her partner's property after that person's death.
When unmarried persons buy property together they should consider the legal status of their ownership rights with respect to each other. For example, they may own the property as joint tenants or tenants in common. Some unmarried couples even create cohabitation property agreements to anticipate legal problems that may arise should the couple split and still jointly own the real property.
Under the law, unmarried partners are generally treated just like single individuals with regard to property. Even though many family law issues can arise in non-marital relationships, property matters are generally treated as non-family law disputes. Unmarried couples will therefore not go through a traditional property division as married couples do when they divorce. They can, however, work through some of their property questions before they become issues by creating cohabitation property agreements.