A lot of couples live together before they get married. Some of them will share bank accounts, or take out loans with both of their names on them. In some cases, one person may financially support the other while he or she goes through school or a career change. But what rights do you have if your husband- or bride-to-be ends the relationship?
The sad truth is, very few. Even if you and your fiancé/fiancée lived together for years, Maryland does not recognize common law marriage, which means there is no official co-mingling of debts or assets, and no recourse if you financially support your partner, who then turns around and breaks up with you. If you both have your name on a car loan or a rental agreement, then you are both responsible for making those payments (unless you can have your name removed), but anything you put into the relationship financially is gone, and there is nothing you can do to recover it. Any “gifts” you gave him or her – and unless there is documentation proving a loan, Maryland will consider them gifts – are his or hers to keep.
That includes payments you made for education, rent, dinner, utilities: the works. Legally, they were not your sole responsibility (or, in some cases, even partially your responsibility, such as with a school loan), and as such, your payments are gifts, which means you have no legal standing to ask for them back.
What about the engagement ring?
This, of course, is the big question: if the relationship ends, who keeps the ring? There are no laws on the books that mandate the ring must be returned to the gifter in the event that the relationship ends before the wedding.
That does not mean the recipient always keeps the ring. Some people may not want to keep it; other couples may choose to sell the ring and split the proceeds. (The Emily Post Institute told USA Today that if the ring is an heirloom, or holds sentimental value to the giver, it is good manners to return it.)
Protecting yourself before you get married
If you and your spouse-to-be live together before you get married, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself in case the relationship ends before you get married:
- Keep separate, individual bank accounts. Some couples may choose to set up a joint account into which each person contributes money for bills or household-related items. If you go this route, make sure no other money is deposited into that account.
- Do not co-sign for bank loans, car loans or credit cards. It will make things easier if you decide to go your separate ways.
- Document any money that is loaned to the other person. If you loan your partner money, make sure it is clearly a loan. It might be worth considering having the document notarized.
- Have an honest discussion about your finances. Money problems often lead to break ups. Make sure you and your partner are open and honest about your debts, your assets, and what you both think you can contribute to the relationship financially. It does not have to be 50/50, but both of you need to go in with your eyes open.
At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC, our experienced Annapolis divorce lawyers offer comprehensive services in all family law matters. To reserve a consultation at our office, please call 410.921.2422 or fill out our contact form.