Modern Family Matters

What Are the Legal Rights for Unmarried Couples Who Separate in Oregon?

July 10, 2020 with Landerholm Family Law Season 1 Episode 7
Modern Family Matters
What Are the Legal Rights for Unmarried Couples Who Separate in Oregon?
Chapters
Modern Family Matters
What Are the Legal Rights for Unmarried Couples Who Separate in Oregon?
Jul 10, 2020 Season 1 Episode 7
with Landerholm Family Law

If you’re unmarried with children, establishing paternity is incredibly important in the event of separation. If paternity is not established, child support will not be ordered, unless it’s voluntary from one party. Additionally, there could be issues establishing custody and parenting time. If paternity is not established, you might be able to obtain custody and parenting time via third-party rights.

When dividing assets and disentangling two unmarried individuals, it first needs to be determined if they’re in a registered domestic partnership. A registered domestic partnership is only available in Oregon to same sex couples, and existed for the purpose of giving marital rights to same sex couples before it was constitutionally mandated that that was available.

An unregistered domestic partnership, which is common amongst heterosexual, homosexual, or non-binary couples, is when you’ve entangled all or many of your assets and life together. In this case, the court will approach this relationship through a lens of contract law.

Intention is a big player when it comes to unregistered domestic partnerships. When deciding how to untangle your assets, the court will be looking at the intention behind the relationship. Intent can be something that's found in a formal writing, informal writing (such as text messages or emails), but also unwritten but implied intentions. 

When distributing assets, if the writing of intent is unclear or if there is no writing, the court is going to have to interpret those intentions, and they will do so through the lens of equity. 

When it comes to handling this process on your own (DIY), there isn't going to be a statute that tells you "this is how it’s done", like you would see in a divorce. It's case-law and contract driven and is entirely dependent on each unique case. 

When in an unregistered domestic partnership, you should mindfully engage with the other person and consider a written relationship agreement that lays out what your intentions are in commingling your life, as well as your intentions in the event of a separation down the line. 

Having a good and comprehensive estate plan in place is key for unmarried couples. Everybody should be doing this, but especially when you don’t have a formal relationship that is legally binding. Be mindful of the benefits you can leave your partner and your family with when you pass away.

Show Notes Transcript

If you’re unmarried with children, establishing paternity is incredibly important in the event of separation. If paternity is not established, child support will not be ordered, unless it’s voluntary from one party. Additionally, there could be issues establishing custody and parenting time. If paternity is not established, you might be able to obtain custody and parenting time via third-party rights.

When dividing assets and disentangling two unmarried individuals, it first needs to be determined if they’re in a registered domestic partnership. A registered domestic partnership is only available in Oregon to same sex couples, and existed for the purpose of giving marital rights to same sex couples before it was constitutionally mandated that that was available.

An unregistered domestic partnership, which is common amongst heterosexual, homosexual, or non-binary couples, is when you’ve entangled all or many of your assets and life together. In this case, the court will approach this relationship through a lens of contract law.

Intention is a big player when it comes to unregistered domestic partnerships. When deciding how to untangle your assets, the court will be looking at the intention behind the relationship. Intent can be something that's found in a formal writing, informal writing (such as text messages or emails), but also unwritten but implied intentions. 

When distributing assets, if the writing of intent is unclear or if there is no writing, the court is going to have to interpret those intentions, and they will do so through the lens of equity. 

When it comes to handling this process on your own (DIY), there isn't going to be a statute that tells you "this is how it’s done", like you would see in a divorce. It's case-law and contract driven and is entirely dependent on each unique case. 

When in an unregistered domestic partnership, you should mindfully engage with the other person and consider a written relationship agreement that lays out what your intentions are in commingling your life, as well as your intentions in the event of a separation down the line. 

Having a good and comprehensive estate plan in place is key for unmarried couples. Everybody should be doing this, but especially when you don’t have a formal relationship that is legally binding. Be mindful of the benefits you can leave your partner and your family with when you pass away.

Introduction:

Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast hosted by Steve Altishin, our Director of Client Partnerships here at Landerholm Family Law. We are devoted to exploring topics within the realm of family law that matter most to you. Our discussions will cover a wide range of both legal and personal issues that accompany family law matters. We strongly believe that life events such as marriages, divorces, re-marriages, births, adoptions, children, growing up, growing older, illnesses and deaths do not dissolve a family. Rather, they provide the opportunity to reconfigure and strengthened family dynamics in healthy and positive ways. With expertise from qualified attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcasts will help provide answers, clarity, and guidance for the better tomorrow for you and your family. Without further ado, your host, Steve Altishin.


 

Steve Altishin:  

Hi everyone, it's Steve Altishin. Thanks for joining us for another broadcast of Modern Family Matters. Today, I have Cambell Boucher with me. Cambell is an attorney with Landerholm Family Law, and we're going to discuss unmarried couples. So Cambell before we start in, can you fill us in a little bit about yourself?

 

Cambell Boucher  1:30  

Hi, Steve, thanks so much for having me. I can! So I'm a family law attorney, like you said, over at Landerholm. I've been there, it's coming up on three years. I practice in all areas of family law. A huge piece of my practice is unmarried couples, and increasingly more-so because marriage is becoming less and less popular among millennials and younger generations.

 

Steve Altishin  1:53  

So I know that when we started to talk about this podcast, there was enough information regarding unmarried couples to do three podcasts. So what we decided to do is today we're going to concentrate a little bit on the legal issues involving unmarried couples who split up. And let's start with one of those issues. Let's start with parental issues. So what do parental issues encompass? And how is it different for unmarried couples?

 

Cambell Boucher  2:21  

Well, it's really not that different, honestly, for unmarried couples. You're dealing with the same issues at the end of the day. The first question is, is paternity established? If the relationship is between a man and a woman, or is your relationship established between same sex couples through adoption or some other means? At the end of the day, you're figuring out custody, parenting time and probably child support. The main issue that usually doesn't crop up with unmarried couples is going to be spousal support.

 

Steve Altishin  2:50  

Well, that makes sense because you're not spouses.

 

Cambell Boucher  2:53  

Yeah. Well, you are and you're not. You can sometimes be spouses to a certain degree, which we could talk about a little bit later.

 

Steve Altishin  3:00  

I look forward to that. So let's talk about paternity. There are a lot of ways that paternity can be established. What the ways that it can be established, at least when couples split up, to kind of kick in those parental rights?

 

Cambell Boucher  3:16  

Well, paternity is usually established by acknowledgement on a birth certificate at birth. When you give birth, they ask you who the father is. Maternity is assumed, based on who's giving birth, of course, and they'll have you put down a name for the other parent. If there's an adoption later down the line, you eventually end up both being on a birth certificate. That's usually how paternity gets established. If, for some reason, a name wasn't put on the birth certificate, or there's a question about that, there's various forms of voluntary acknowledgement, which sounds like what it is-- it's voluntary. Everybody acknowledges what's going on. And then if there is some further questions, there are various court proceedings you can go through, which usually involves a DNA test, and there'll be a ruling on paternity at the end of the day.

 

Steve Altishin  4:06  

So one of those ways, however it gets established, either paternity is established, or it's not established.

 

Unknown Speaker  4:13  

Yep. And if it's not established, there's not going to be child support. Unless it's voluntary.

 

Steve Altishin  4:18  

That was my question on that. So then without it, you're sort of out of luck if you're trying to get stuff like child support. How about then getting custody, or even parenting time, or any sort of visitation at all if it's not established?

 

Cambell Boucher  4:34  

Well, not in the traditional sense. You are in a place that's called third party rights. That's a really complicated area of law and we could spend two podcasts on that easily. But it depends on who wants to establish the visitation and custody, and it looks different depending on the relationship with the child, etc. It's going to look different from somebody who's known a child for a couple of weeks. You really can't do that. But if you've raised a child and they've considered you their parent, it's going look a lot different in that situation. And you could probably bring third party rights.

 

Steve Altishin  5:10  

The establishment then, if you have established paternity like you said, or if it was established through one of the more common methods, then that kicks in the parental rights. And it sounds like what you're saying is they really don't differ, at that point, then if you were in fact married.

 

Unknown Speaker  5:32  

Yeah, exactly. And Steve it might be helpful if we sort of define what parental rights mean, versus custody and parenting time, because it's a little different. Parental rights actually has a legal meaning in Oregon, which are certain rights that a parent always has unless you're stripped of them. And that includes getting medical records, school records, the right to consult with the physicians, etc. And so it's a list that the legislature has laid out. Things that every parent, being that paternity is established, is always going to have unless you're stripped of those rights, which almost never happens. And then there's the custody and parenting time. Parenting time is the time schedule that you see your children, you know, which house they're going to be at. And custody is the right to make certain legal decisions for the children. And so when we're litigating custody and parenting time, really, parental rights are never up for debate. It's very rare if ever.

 

Steve Altishin  6:34  

It sounds like, although we're talking about splitting up, if an unmarried couple, for whatever reason, doesn't get that paternity established, either on a birth certificate or otherwise, there could be problems for the father. Not even involving the split up, but just things like getting records and stuff?

 

Cambell Boucher  7:01  

Well, it could be. Exactly. And so you want to make sure that you're establishing paternity really clearly if for some reason you haven't been put on the birth certificate. And this shows up more often with same sex couples, that you're not going to be on a birth certificate more regularly, because of course, it's more complicated in that setting. And that's where we end up with third party rights cases if there hasn't been a formal adoption. And the same thing is available for opposite sex couples too. For instance, father has raised a child since birth, he is the father, but his new partner, a woman, isn't the biological mother but has been raising that child her entire life. You're going to be in third party rights, but you don't have the same rights, such as accessing records and such, that automatically that come along with having that biological relationship established. So it does complicate things more but it doesn't mean that there aren't solves for that. It's just really important that you have that baseline of paternity established to be able to proceed forward and have those automatic rights.

 

Steve Altishin  8:08  

Thank you. We'll move now from the traditional parental rights you talked about to the issue of, let's say they do or don’t have a kid, but still they have to work to figure out what to do with all of their stuff. So what sort of a determination is made and how is it made to get that done? Because obviously, they can't sue for divorce and have a divorce here. So what do couples do at that point to get undone, or to get uncoupled?

 

Cambell Boucher  8:47  

Yeah, that is the million-dollar question, isn't it? So like you said, divorce only works when you're married, but what do we do to disentangle other people when they have this relationship? Usually you have bought things together, maybe a car, you've co-signed for loans. You have bank accounts together because you've been together for a long time. You made a decision not to get married, or maybe, honestly, many of my clients just never got around to it because they wanted to have a big wedding and just never had the money. So what do you do, then? How does the law disentangle those people? 

And the question is, first and foremost, are they in a registered domestic partnership? A registered domestic partnership is going to be something that's only available in Oregon to same sex couples and that existed for the purpose of basically giving marital rights to same sex couples before it was constitutionally mandated that that was available. And so you will have some same sex couples who aren't married but are in what's called a registered domestic partnership. And we dissolve that. It's called a dissolution of a registered domestic partnership. The legal inquires, so what the courts are looking at, what the losses are that they need to look at, are similar to that of a marriage. Again, the purpose of it was to give another avenue for same sex couples to be in a union together when the constitution was interpreted as not allowing marriage. 

And then there's another type of relationship that anybody-- same sex, opposite sex, or non-binary couples can have, which is, we call it informally, an unregistered domestic partnership. And that's where most people land, right? That's where you've gotten a life together that you've created. You've entangled all of these things together- you own stuff, you have maybe a house together. And what do we do? So where the law really starts off when you're in that area is approaching this relationship through a lens of contract law. And it has certain things that it's looking for. The first question is: are you in an unregistered domestic partnership and what does that mean? Basically, I don't want to get too deep into the weeds because this is a really fact-dependent question and is going to vary case by case by case. But generally, what the law is looking for is that commingling, so basically mixing up assets, and what the intent was when you mixed up those assets together.

 

Steve Altishin  11:24  

That sounds like when you mentioned contract law, did you intend to make a contract? And did you intend to make an unregistered domestic partnership?

 

Cambell Boucher  11:34  

Something like that, right? I like to explain it in terms of business because that's something people have a lot more experience with. So maybe you and your friend want to start a business, like a moving business, and one person brings a truck because they have a truck that you can use the bed with and the other person has maybe some moving straps and a storage unit that they already have. So you team up with your friend and you've decided you're going to do a moving business. And at one point, you guys own those things separately, as you're both bringing them to the party, but you intend to make a business together where you're going to use both those assets to be able to benefit each other and the whole. And so at the end of the day, what happens when you end up saying, "I can't work with this guy anymore? He can't work me anymore". Now, what does the law do there? Well, the first question is, what did you guys intend to do? Did you write this out and put it in writing and say, Well, if we can't work together anymore, I'm keeping the storage shed and you're keeping the truck? Or did you say we're going to sell off everything and divide it? The first question is “what was the intention of the parties here?”

And intent can be something that's found in a formal writing, there are relationship agreements that we draft up on occasion and some other practitioners do that more regularly. And there are also unwritten but implied intentions that are really clear. More and more commonly, especially as this is cropping up more, we're going to be looking at stuff like text messages, right? Well, if you're saying things like, "what's mine is yours" through texts and email and while you're opening bank accounts together, that's going to really help the court figure out what your intentions were.

 

Steve Altishin  13:15  

Let's say the court looks at it and they say, "through all of the things you talked about, through all of the indices of intent, we've decided that you guys really did intend to be a couple, if not a married couple, still a couple". And the court makes that determination and reaches that spot. How then, when they've determined that this is the case, is the property distributed? Is it distributed like a contract where you just kind of look to the, you know, "yours is yours"? Yours is yours, the rest is 50/50? I know that obviously in Oregon under divorces, there's the equitable distribution philosophy of how it's distributed. Does that carry over into unmarried couples?

 

Cambell Boucher  14:10  

Well, you're asking all the right questions. And frankly, those are the questions that a lot of my clients have when they come through the door. And the answer is the all-time joke about lawyers because this is the answer that we always give: it depends. It depends. It should be, generally, along the lines of what you intended. But when you're working in a space where there isn't a contract to look at, when you're piecing these things together from indicia, or like you said, all these pinpoints that are just sort of giving an outline of what was intended here. There is going to be some determinations the court has to make about what's equitable. And it’s always going to be a court of equity. They should be bound by what your agreement was, but there's going to be interpretations of what you intended, right? If the writings unclear or if there is no writing, a court is going to have to interpret those things, and as a court of equity. So at the end of the day, they are allowed to make decisions that are equitable. They're not going to go off, or one would hope they don't go completely off book. Right? That would not be the way to approach that and that shouldn't happen. But there's going to be some in-between of what you understood, what they understood, and what the court sees is happening here. And so that's where that equitable decision making comes into play. It's about interpretation of the terms.

 

Steve Altishin  15:39  

It really does sort of become a hybrid of a contract for business and a contract to stay together.

 

Cambell Boucher  15:46  

Well, yeah, and it gets a little more muddled when you have children together because they're making decisions, "they" being the court, about potentially where a child can live. Right? So what if you bought a house together, and you have some sort of interest and your interest needs to be bought out? And it's not clear. It's clear that you guys comingled and you intended to own this together, but there's no way for your interest to be bought out from the other party who's keeping the house. So the house is going to have to be sold. It starts to get complicated. And you know, houses can always be bought again, though it may be difficult and certainly stressful, right? But that's where the court, especially when you have children together, it starts to get a little muddled. So it may be a question of, “Well, if I can't keep the house, I have to move out of state”. And that's really when equity starts to, again, come into this analysis of, "we can't really tell what you intended, other than you wanted to own this together. We can tell you wanted to own it, but we can't tell what you wanted to do when it came to breaking up". 

 

Steve Altishin  16:54  

It sounds like if kids are involved and the intent isn't clear, then the best interest of the child really dominates even in financial issues.

 

Cambell Boucher  17:07  

I mean, yes and no, I don't want to make it sound like that--it's still a contract, right? First and foremost. And if the intent of how you are going to divide things is clear, then that's the end-all-be-all. If you have something that says, “I'm going to divide it XYZ way”, and there's no ambiguity, that's what the court is going to enforce. But it's in these areas that really crop up when you've basically falling into this, you know, you intended to buy the car together. You intended to buy the house together because the mortgage rate was lower. You intended to do joint checking, because then you got a better savings rate for the savings account. You intended all these smaller things, but you never made clear what your intent was when you were breaking up. And now the court is being asked to disentangle that and there's so many factors for them to consider it just depends. And it may or may not involve children, where then they're making some decisions about that.

 

Steve Altishin  18:07  

It sounds kind of like, and I don't want to say "have your cake and eat it too", but I know a lot of couples who have lived together for years. And they are not married because they don't want to be married. That's the answer they give you: "We just don't believe in that, and we don't want the government interfering with what we can do". But then, when they split up, it's kind of like the shoe is on the other foot and the government is going to step in and make decisions. Maybe based on things where you may end up being declared married in the sense that you're an unregistered partnership, even though you have told all your friends all of your life, "No, we're not married. We're never gonna get married".

 

Cambell Boucher  19:04  

Yeah. Again, it's becoming increasingly more common. For instance, I'm a millennial; millennial generation. Most of us aren't married. I am, but most of my friends are not. They're in maybe long-term partnerships. And they have children together, but they never got married. Or, they didn't get married in the traditional sense in that they don't have a marriage certificate, but they actually had a ceremony together, where they exchanged vows, and they hold themselves out as married, but they're not technically married. So there's so many degrees and shades of how one couples gather. And what the court is left with is a really factually driven analysis of what to do. And that's really why it depends. The way they approach it is not going to depend again, but the way that those chips fall is going to be a factual question. 

One example of this is-you know, when I say "they", I'm saying the court at large- is going look for intent of comingling a specific asset, right? So, they'll look and see that you've bought a house together. Somebody put the down payment in but the mortgage is in the other person's name because they have a better credit rate. This is very common. So one person's credit score is horrible because they had student loans that they never really paid until recently, because they couldn't or what have you, but they have assets, they have money, maybe a family member died and they have some money from that. A chunk of change sitting around. The other person has a perfect credit score. They're not married, and they want to buy a house because they don't want to live in an apartment anymore. So one person is like, "Well, I have the down payment, you put the mortgage in your name, and we'll make the payments on the mortgage. You're going to be the only one who's on the title on the mortgage, but I'm going to pay the down payment". You know, what do you do with that? The one debt is only in one party's name and the house as well. But then you have somebody who put a down payment there and has been making payments. It's all about what was the intention of the parties when it comes to this. You can make a pretty good argument that the intention was they were both going to share in this house and any value it brought, especially if they're both contributing.

 

Steve Altishin  21:27  

Wow, it really is coming over that kind of contrary to popular belief, but that maybe not being married and being a couple is actually more complex than being married. And if you have to unfortunately get a dissolve or disentangle, this may not be the time for a DIY divorce, because there are a lot of issues going on.

 

Cambell Boucher  22:00  

I will say, you know, sometimes divorces are simple in that there's not a lot of assets going on, and there are no kids. And really, at the end of the day what you're doing, and maybe you're just in agreement with the other party, is putting together a divorce judgment that says there's nothing here, you guys are divorced now, right? There's no spouse, or there's no asset division, that happens occasionally. And that's simple, right? That's a simple thing to do. And I would never say, you know, if you ever have any questions of law, the court staffs there for you, they're so helpful. But that's not their job. They can't advise you the law. You want to talk to an attorney. But you could see somebody muddling their way through that, where you don't own anything, neither of you really have an income difference. There's no kids. You could see filling out that state form on your own and it's very unlikely you would really make a mistake that would be problematic. I mean, there are mistakes that are made, I am here to fix them. 

But when it comes to unregistered domestic partnerships, there isn't going to be a statute-and that's the fancy term for laws on the books in Oregon, a statute- there's no statute that tells you "this is how we do it", like you would see in a divorce. It's case-law driven. It's contract driven. And that is a really intense factual and legal analysis. That would be extremely difficult for a lay person to be able to engage in it. And I don't want to say it'd be impossible. I'm certain that there's somebody who has done that, but I can't imagine doing that and also having a full-time job. That's why you end up hiring experts. I always say I like to stay in my lane. I hire a taxperson, or somebody do my car. You know, that's just not the area I know about. This is one of those areas that are really, really case law driven and you're not going to be able to look up the law on the books and the facts that really matter.

 

Steve Altishin  23:54  

That really makes sense, and that's at the complex end of the spectrum. Looking again at the simple end of the spectrum, say you don't have much, but maybe you have a kid, is it possible for a couple to end that relationship? I mean, I'm sure it's possible, but maybe advisable, without any use of the courts at all? Let's say they have a kid, they don't really own anything. They have a kid, and they've decided that everything is cool. And they're going to do parenting time, they're going to do this, they're going to do that. But nothing's ever recorded because it's just them. I mean, can that end up causing issues?

 

Cambell Boucher  24:36  

Well, my answer is going to be biased, right? Because I only see people when it does cause issues. I'm never going to see somebody who says, "Oh, this has been going fine for 10 years, because we had an agreement". I only see people come through the door because they had an agreement, maybe it was working out fine, but it is no longer working. Or somebody says "Oh, that was never in the agreement. You misunderstood. You don't have every other week, you actually only had it for this time period. And now Cindy Lou, our daughter, only lives with me". I only see people like that. So while I'm certain that it's possible, if you want something that's enforceable when it comes to this, it has to be put into a form of writing. And it's got to be signed off by a judge eventually for it to be enforceable. So if you want an agreement to hold water, and to be able to have tools to be able to protect your interests, to protect the parenting plan, to enforce it, you've got to get it in writing and you've got to get it in the form of a judgement.

 

Steve Altishin  25:35  

It sounds like pretty much, like you were talking about there, everything can be dealt with. They're just dealt with, maybe in the same way, maybe in a different way, but they all can be dealt with. And you had mentioned something at the very beginning and I kind of want to circle back to that. The one major difference, and it's very difficult to get around it it sounds like, is the issue of spousal support. So if this is a 40-year unmarried couple, in a relationship forever but it goes bad, that spousal support, which can be really important, is not generally available.

 

Cambell Boucher  26:39  

That's correct. So, again, the intention is what's most important here. And you could see maybe a situation where somebody's vowed to support, or contracted to support, another person financially for the rest of their life. And in that case, you know, we wouldn't call it spousal support probably, we would call it a term of a contract at that stage if somebody is contracted to continuously financially support someone. But if that was never part of your agreement, and there's no evidence of that, you're not going to have ongoing support ordered. Maybe child support, but not at 40 years, because normally your children are grown and out of the house by then. 

So it really starts to become an area of “what did you contract to?” And this is why I say, and you'll see this becoming more and more frequent, you should be very mindful of the choices you're making. And making sure you and your partner, whoever that may be, are on the same page about that. And maybe consider putting something in writing when it comes to what you're doing here. Because at the end of the day, unfortunately, most relationships are going to come to an end. And it's never in the good times that you have questions or concerns about what's going on. And maybe you're like, "Oh it doesn't matter, we didn't get around to putting my name on this or that, because it's fine". But there will come a day, in most people's relationships, where things end, for better or worse. And the question is, did you two have the same understanding of what was happening here? Because maybe, you know, you weren't doing a retirement program in your own name, because you were using the money to buy groceries instead. And your spouse or your partner at the time was contributing extra to their retirement account because they had a better retirement account. And you used your money to buy groceries, so that they had more money to put into their retirement account. But your name is not on that retirement account. And now you have no retirement. 

Make sure you get these things in writing and make it really clear. You should mindfully engage with the other person and consider a written relationship agreement or something that lays out, even if it's just between you two with no intent that's enforceable. What's going on here is, if you do break up at the end of the day, you have something to look at that guides your separation and disentanglement.

 

Steve Altishin  29:08  

You made me think of one more thing, and it's really not necessarily between the spouses. What would happen, let's say, if either a divorce occurs, or one of the parent dies, and the couple maybe has had an agreement, but what about the kid? I mean, is there something about the children of unmarried couples, especially maybe adult children of unmarried couples, who should kind of think about what this means to them? Let's say dad isn't established legally, but everybody knows you're my dad, and everyone knows I'm your son, but then there's a death. I mean, can that lead to issues?

 

Cambell Boucher  30:04  

I mean, it absolutely can. I'm not saying it always would. "It depends" is the answer. But it can lead to issues. But you're going to see those issues also crop up, not just in the immediate "what do we do with this property" situation. If that was the case, the first question is, "do they have a will?" And you should have a will if you do not have one already. I was very lazy and I didn't have a will for a long time even despite being a family law attorney. So you'd look at the will first for what to do with the assets of that unmarried couple. With adult children, it's not going to matter too much. It starts to get complicated with paternity. And again, this is something we could spend a very long time talking about. 

But it's going to really matter that you weren't married when it comes to your benefits from the federal government. So I see this situation play out a little more with older couples who have begun pulling down on Social Security. And they were not married, but they were in a relationship that was long enough to constitute-- you get an extra benefit, basically, after 10 years when you're married from Social Security if you're both of qualified retirement age and you're drawing down. So you get extra from a deceased spouse or from a spouse, for your personal social security benefits. Now, being in a relationship doesn't qualify you for that. You have to have been married. So you start to see this sort of thing play out, as well with certain employee benefit programs. You know, you may have been entitled to life insurance benefit as a spouse if you were formally married to one another. There's certain payout structures and benefits. There are tax brackets that would matter. It starts to get pretty complicated. So you want to make sure you're considering that and any thorough estate planning.

 

Steve Altishin  32:05  

Again, it kind of even goes back to like splitting up, obviously. Because there's a whole ‘nother layer of law that still technically, for a lot of it, favors spouse over domestic partner. And it's something to think about just beyond the typical divorce kind of stuff, like things that can change or benefits you can or can't get from the feds.

 

Cambell Boucher  32:36  

Yeah, exactly. And the honest answer here is that our society and our laws are set up to envision, and we're moving slowly away and creating better understanding of what a family looks like. But our society and laws were originally set up to really only recognize a certain kind of relationship. And then you get certain benefits when that relationship comes to an end, or there's a certain way we process that. And right now, each state in their own way, and the federal government to a certain extent, is grappling with, "Well, this is not how everybody looks. And this is not how everything works. And we need to get caught up". 

What I really like to say is, it'd be great if we could get some legislation on unregistered domestic partnerships so that we have a structure to begin addressing this. But it does add a layer of complication where honestly, especially if it's because of a passing of your partner that was untimely or unexpected, the last thing you want to do is to be dealing with: how do you get what you believed, and what your spouse understood to be yours, because your name wasn't on it. And some of this is handled through relationship agreements, or the like. 

But another component, especially when you're dealing with passing and caring for your children especially after you're gone, it is about really good and comprehensive estate planning. And everybody should be doing that, even if you're married. But especially when you don't have that kind of formal relationship, you want to be very mindful of the benefits that you can actually leave your partner and your family with if you're unmarried.

 

Steve Altishin  34:19  

Well we're hitting up on our 30 minutes. But, if someone were to walk in, and I know that most people don't come to attorneys to ask if they should get married, it's typically the other end of the spectrum. But if someone were to come in or ask you, "Hey, we're thinking of not getting married, we're just going to live together and not worry about that. Would it be a good idea for them to come in and see you just to get some advice, because there are pretty unique, different things people don't think about?

 

Cambell Boucher  34:55  

Yeah, so it depends, but I'll answer your question more clearly in a second. I don't want to give legal advice through this podcast without knowing specific facts. Generally what I think I would say in that situation is, one, I'd probably only be talking to one of those individuals since I can only have one client, and it may benefit one of them to be married versus not benefiting the other person. But I would say there are ways to make your relationship account for how it's going to look if you guys are not together anymore through accident or choice. And to be mindful about that. There's no reason you have to get married. You should not get married just because it would be easier to disentangle things. But it's more about, as you're going down that path of entangling your lives, being extremely mindful about the agreements you're making and making sure you and your partner are on the same page about what is actually playing out here. 

And, this is more of a therapy thing, but if you're not comfortable having that conversation with that partner, is that really somebody that you should be buying a house with that your name isn't going to be on? You know, I think that would be my general advice. Now, if somebody was saying, "I don't care if I'm married or not married, I just want to make sure that I can get spousal support and they want to make sure I can", I would say there's ways to ensure payment, but you should do the form of relationship that is most meaningful to you. And there are ways, as long as you're engaged with the thoughtful process of making sure that you're setting up your future together, and keeping writing, writing, writing, to achieve the ends that you want. And you should make that choice, not out of the legal advice, but out of what is best for you and your partner.

 

Steve Altishin  36:57  

Well, thank you very much Cambell. this was really really interesting.

 

Cambell Boucher  37:01  

It was my pleasure Steve.

 

Steve Altishin  37:04  

It's really about being thoughtful. You just have to put a little more thought into it, maybe. And that just makes sense for a lot of things actually. 

 

I wish I could take my own advice!

 

Oh, well, you know, physician heal thyself. So, we're going to go away. Thanks everybody for listening in on our podcast, Modern Family Matters. And we just hope everyone's having a good day and see you later.

 

Cambell Boucher  37:34  

Thanks so much for having me, Steve. I hope you'll have me back.

 

Outro:

You're listening to Modern Family Matters a legal podcast, focusing on providing real answers and direction for individuals and families as they navigate the growths, changes, and challenges of creating their new family dynamics. Modern Family Matters is sponsored by Landerholm Family Law, serving Oregon and the Pacific Northwest and devoted to providing clients with compassionate and fierce legal advocacy with a firm belief in the importance of upholding the family unit amidst complex transitions. If you are in need of legal counsel or have additional questions about a family law matter important to you, you can visit our Landerholm Family website www.landerholmfamilylaw.com, or call us at (503) 227-0200 to schedule a case evaluation with one of our seasoned attorneys. Modern Family Matters, advocating for your better tomorrow and offering solutions on legal matters, important to the modern family.