While the percentage of people living together as unmarried couples is growing, a new type of problem calls for being resolved: division of joint property. Mind you, the rules of the divorce do not apply in these cases, since the couples are not married. So what happens is that the court remains the one who decides. The solution of the court has been rarely found to be satisfactory to both or even to either parties involved.

In 2006 the Iowa court of appeals issued a quite controversial opinion: the couple bought a house together, each partner paying half of the down payment, while the rest of the price was later paid by one of the partners. Then they contributed both with cash and services to the remodeling of the home. When the couple’s relationship fell apart and they asked for partition of real estate and accounting, the court allegedly applied the joint venture principles. One of the partners argued that the general rules of partition should have been applied. Still, the court found it unnecessary to address this contention, since, according to the court the result would have been the same regardless of whether the joint venture rules or the general rules of partition had been applied. In Iowa divorce cases, the court never operates a simple accounting of the marriage. Even if this couple were not married, the court chose to do the same. The result was unsatisfactory, to at least one of the parties, who expressed this point of view loud and clear.

What is beyond any shadow of doubt is that it is always better for unmarried couples to state in writing exactly how they want the property accumulated together to be divided, in case their partnership falls apart. Their clearly expressed will could prove to be far more convenient than any court decision.

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