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Unmarried partners' legal issues

Posted by attorney Joan Bundy

With all the emphasis in the news these days on celebrity divorces, people who choose not to marry or are not yet married or not able to marry seem to get lost in the shuffle. And yet their family law problems are no less real or important than those of married individuals.

With more than 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, perhaps marriage is a bit overrated. But if you don’t go that route, just exactly how would you divide up assets and debts if things go astray? Who will be awarded primary custody of the children or gets to keep the pets? What happens to the house bought together?

These are all crucial questions and should not be handled without the assistance of a family lawyer experienced in issues involving unmarried persons. That’s why you should contact Joan Bundy Law PLC today to see how we can help you best deal with the intricacies of your unique situation.

Being unmarried and having family difficulties complicates matters in ways you might not think about until you’re in the midst of trouble. For one, you don’t have the benefit of a certain piece of paper to help you assert your rights—that is, a marriage certificate. Occasionally, you may have the benefit of an unmarried partnership agreement, domestic partnership agreement or the like, but unfortunately use of these is still extremely rare.

Moreover, by the mere fact that you are not married, if there is any child custody or support issue that comes up, you first have to establish paternity. That may sound crazy, but unless the parents were married at the time of the child’s birth—or 10 months either way—paternity is not presumed to lie with mom's spouse.

A man can voluntarily agree that he is a child’s father, say by signing a document at the hospital when the baby is born or at some point later on and thereby being included on the birth certificate, but if he refuses or there is a question, then you will have to convince a judge to order DNA testing to determine who the biological father truly is. (See my free legal guide on paternity right here on

Once paternity is established, the rest of the steps can go forward relatively quickly and smoothly, including establishment of child custody/parenting time and establishment of child custody.

However, same-sex couples have the added burden of a jigsaw puzzle of jurisdictions that allow or don't allow same-sex marriage. In October 2014 Arizona was ordered to begin marrying same-sex couples, joining 30-some states that do, which is likely to include all states before too long.

If you are in an unmarried romantic situation, don’t leave your future to chance. Give Joan Bundy Law PLC a call at (480) 463-4600 to see how she can help you protect your legal rights or assist you if and when things unravel in an unmarried partner situation.

Best of luck!

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