Tennessee does not recognize Common Law marriage, so there are no special asset or property division laws that apply to couples who live together no matter how long they have done so. Therefore, when property and asset disputes arise during the dissolution of a long term cohabitation relationship, the laws that govern marriage have no application. Instead, the statutes and laws governing contract and partnership law may apply.
As of 2015, Tennessee has recognized the validity of same sex marriage; therefore, gay and lesbian divorces and child custody disputes are governed by the same laws and codes regarding divorce that pertain to everyone in Tennessee. However, the couple may have made financial or contractual obligations to each other prior to their marriage that could make for a tricky web to untangle to ensure each leave with their fair share of the relationship’s equity.
What Rights Do Unmarried Partners Have?
When two people live together for a period of time, it is normal for them to accumulate assets that, if they were married, would be considered “marital” assets. Since there are usually no legal agreements or contracts in place in long-term partnerships, it can be a terrible financial burden for you if your partner decides they want to end the relationship. Typically, each person leaves the relationship with that they brought in, but what to do with the assets acquired during the relationship? For instance, the home could be in your ex partner’s name (maybe because they had it prior to the relationship or due to credit history issues), but you paid most of the payments. The burden is going to be on you to prove what you paid for, how much you paid for it, and when you paid for it. If you can prove that you contributed financially to the purchasing of major assets, the building of savings accounts, operation of a business, or paid for additions or renovations to the home that caused it to appreciate in value, you could be awarded property division from the relationship despite the fact that no marriage contract existed.
What About Our Children?
Child custody and child support for unmarried couples with children are the same as married couples with children. A custody agreement will need to be agreed upon and approved by the court and child support will be assessed and awarded based on which parent has primary custody and wages of the non-custodial parent.
Same Sex Couples
Since 2015, gay and lesbian couples have had a federal right to marry and the right to marry in Tennessee. Therefore, their divorce and any corresponding child custody agreement will be handled under the T.C.A. codes applying to divorce in general. Long term LGB&T relationships, that pre-date the legal right to marry, may have resulted in legal obligations made to one another prior to the marriage that add complications to asset division in the divorce. Also, unmarried LGB&T couples face the same process of proof of significant financial contribution to be awarded asset and property division if a long term cohabitation relationship ends. Any child custody or child support resulting from the relationship will be decided by the Court at the time of divorce or when a Proposed Parenting Plan and Request for Child Support are filed with the Court.