Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Often I receive calls from people who are unmarried but have lived with a fiancé, a paramour, or a POSSLQ (person of the opposite sex sharing living quarters). The relationship is now on the skids for whatever reason, the parties have decided to break up, and many questions now arise as far as how to divide up the personal property they have acquired and the debts they have incurred during their live-in relationship now that the relationship is over.

People have heard various stories over the years about Hollywood celebrities, “palimony” and casually assume that in this modern age the law must provide them with protections similar to married persons involved in a divorce, or what Illinois law calls a “dissolution of marriage.”

I have been practicing family law for many years. I pride myself in the fact that I fight hard for my clients’ rights and that I am not afraid to take on the hard cases. It has never been easy for me to give people bad news. However, I have to be honest with everyone, whether potential or actual clients of mine. And when someone calls and presents me with the above scenario (live-in relationship gone pear-shaped, credit card debts, car loans, lease payments, furniture, appliances and expensive electronics with ownership and responsibility now up for grabs) I have to tell them some bad news.

The Illinois Supreme Court, in the recent case of Blumenthal v. Brewer, held that unmarried person living together do not share the same rights as married couples under Illinois law. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived together, or what you have promised each other. Your good-faith beliefs and expectations won’t help you. In terms of enforcing any rights against the other party by reason of the live-in relationship, don’t expect any help at all from the courts. As the Illinois Supreme Court held in the above opinion, “unmarried individuals may make express or implied contracts with one another, and such contracts will be enforceable if they are not based on a relationship indistinguishable from marriage.”

In other words, whatever agreements you have with one another should be reduced to writing, signed by both parties, and must, like any other contract, be based on real consideration, rather than the intimate relationship or living arrangement between the parties. Most importantly, you should always consult a lawyer before signing a lease or financing a major purchase together. Otherwise, if you break up, all you may be left with as a memento is a staggering credit card debt, car loan or lease payment. Love well, but wisely.