What happens to all the assets that are acquired during a relationship when the parties break up? Well, if you are married, there are clearly defined “rights” to support a distribution of property acquired during the marriage. For those unmarried couples, breaking up and dividing assets is much more complicated.

There really are no “equitable distribution” rights for cohabitating couples who are unmarried.  Instead, unmarried cohabitants must rely on contract law or equitable remedies such as unjust enrichment, partition or implied contract.  If none of these are applicable, there may be no claim to any property that in the other party’s name and/or possession.

Similarly, the rights of an unmarried person to “support” differ from the rights of a married person upon termination of the relationship.  A married person has a legal right to spousal support (aka alimony) if warranted under the New Jersey statute. An unmarried person may have a claim to “palimony” but such support is viewed as contractual in nature and must be in writing to be enforceable.

There is an exception for oral promises of support that were made before 2010 (the year that New Jersey modified the palimony statute to require written promises of support), but the claimant for support faces an uphill battle in the Courts.

Moreover, an unmarried cohabitant will not be entitled to share in their ex’s retirement benefits, survivorship benefits or worker compensation benefits. Many of these issues may be resolved if the parties enter into a written “cohabitation agreement”.

Given that unmarried couples do not have the same rights as married couples, it is very important to discuss the particular aspects of asset division and/or support claims with an experienced matrimonial attorney.