Kathy Macchione Leggett, LMHC • (863) 207-4402  Kathy@mccmediation.com

Mediation & Counseling Consultants

Reduce the time, stress and cost of divorce.

Domestic Partnerships

The legal system does not adequately protect unmarried partners when their partnership dissolves. The mediation process can provide the help that is needed in these cases to resolve conflicts about division of property and custody of children.

You and your partner have been living together for years. During your partnership, you have commingled your bank accounts. One of you has used savings to purchase furniture for the house. The other has cashed in some stock and used the funds to put a deck off the living room. One of you has given up a career to be home with the children while the other stayed in the workforce, building up retirement benefits.

Now you are going to split up and go your separate ways. Both of you are angry at how this relationship has ended. You each talk to an attorney and discover that you have very limited legal remedies due to the fact that you did not marry. Communication becomes impossible and there seems to be no way to reasonably allocate property or decide what to do with the kids. What can you do?

While the law provides guidance and support to married families, it often does not address or pertain to the needs of domestic partners. Such couples are often lost in not only a painful and emotional situation, but also a particularly vulnerable situation financially.

Mediation is an ideal forum for addressing the needs of domestic partners who are working through a separation of their relationship. Mediation can help resolve issues for those who have lived together; bought property together, parented a child together, and/or formed a business together while being involved in an emotional and personal relationship with one another.  In mediation, parties are able to choose standards, including borrowed legal standards, to guide them in children's issues or property division where such standards may not otherwise exist.

Mediation is a process that can be used to dissolve your partnership without litigation. It is a structured problem-solving process in which a neutral, impartial third person assists the parties to reach an agreement. The mediator, who is trained and experienced in negotiation, facilitates the discussions and manages the process to ensure full discussion and the resolution of issues.  The open exchange of information frees up both parties to negotiate with each other in confidence, which means that it typically takes less time and money to resolve their issues, as well as minimize the impact of separation in your lives.  The mediator will also make appropriate referrals to lawyers, financial advisors, or property appraisers if and when it is needed.

Mediation assists parties with separating their relationship with integrity and with compassion into workable decisions and agreements.

Parties negotiate directly with one another under the direction of a mediator. The mediator's role is to create an environment where the parties can sit together and discuss settlement options. The mediation sessions are usually three hours in length. Ideas, options, and alternatives are generated by the parties and by the mediator. Ground rules for effective communication are established and enforced so that potential arguments turn into problem-solving discussions. Even though emotions can run high, the mediator keeps the parties focused and moving forward toward resolution of the issues.

Communication is the key in mediation. During this process, the parties can openly discuss their concerns and determine their own future. This approach serves to benefit everyone involved. What could be better than that?

Self-determination and control over the outcome promotes positive, lasting results for everyone. Those who make a plan themselves are more likely to follow it than those decisions that have been made by the court.

The end result of mediation is a written agreement that is satisfactory to both the parties. The goal is not "winning" but rather resolution of all issues and a result that both partners can live with. This agreement gives the partners a structured and civilized way to divide their commingled property where the court would not. This agreement gives the partners a future plan for handling the children. In some cases, a co-parenting plan for the children will be recognized by the court. Co-parenting plans can be created within the mediation process.

FAQ:  Domestic Partnerships: 

Are domestic partnerships just for GLBT?

No. Domestic partnerships and cohabitation is not only for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender relationships. There are heterosexual couples that consider themselves a family, or who cohabitate for reasons that have nothing to do with alternative lifestyles.

My partner and I don't own much property. Do we need a written contract covering who owns what?

If you haven't been together long and don't own much, it's really not necessary. But the longer you live together, the more important it

  • is to prepare a written contract making it clear who owns what -- especially if you begin to accumulate a lot of property. Otherwise,
  • you might face a serious (and potentially expensive) battle if you split up and can't agree on how to divide what you've acquired. And when things are good, taking the time to draft a well-thought-out contract helps you clarify your intentions.

My partner and I are buying a house. Do we need a written property agreement?

It's particularly important to make a written property agreement if you buy a house together; the large financial and emotional commitments involved are good reasons to take extra care with your plans. Your contract should cover at least four major areas:

How much of the house does each of you own? If it's not 50-50, is there a way for the person who owns less than half to increase his share -- for example, by fixing up the house or making a larger share of the mortgage payment?

  • How is title (ownership) to be listed on the deed? One choice is as "joint tenants with rights of survivorship," meaning that when one of you dies, the other automatically inherits the whole house. Another option is "tenants in common," meaning that when one of you dies, that share of the house goes to whoever is named in a will or trust, or goes to blood relatives if the deceased partner left no estate plan.
  • What happens to the house if you break up? Will one of you have the first right to stay in the house (perhaps to care for a young child) and buy the other out, or will the house be sold and the proceeds divided?
  • If one of you has a buyout right, how will the house be appraised and how long will the buyout take?

Am I liable for the debts of my partner?

Not unless you have specifically undertaken responsibility to pay a particular debt -- for example, as a cosigner or if the debt is charged to a joint account. By contrast, husbands and wives are generally liable for all debts incurred during marriage, even those incurred by the other person. The one exception for unmarried couples applies if you have registered as domestic partners in a city where the domestic partner ordinance states that you agree to pay for each other's "basic living expenses" (food, shelter and clothing).

If one of us dies, how much property will the survivor inherit?

Nothing, unless the deceased partner made a will or used another estate planning device such as a living trust or joint tenancy agreement, or, if under the terms of a contract (such as a contract to purchase household furnishings together), the survivor already owns part of the property. This is unlike the legal situation married couples enjoy, where a surviving spouse automatically inherits a major portion of a deceased spouse's property. The bottom line is simple: to protect the person you live with, you must specifically leave her property using a will, living trust or other legal document.