Dear Penny: Can I Kick Out My Boyfriend if We’re in a Common-Law Marriage?
I am in a bit of a mess and have no idea what I should do. My boyfriend and I have been dating for about seven years. Last year we decided to buy a house and finally move in together.
Unfortunately for personal reasons (not bad credit), he is not able to have anything in his name. Therefore, the house is under my name alone. After moving in, we bought a car. We also needed furniture for the house, so I opened a few lines of credit also under my name to furnish the house.
Six months later, our relationship isn’t doing so well. We constantly fight, and it has gotten to the point where I have seriously considered ending the relationship.
The issue is, I fear ending the relationship because I know I can’t afford the mortgage, car payment, bills and credit card debt by myself. On top of that he has told me that if I end the relationship, he will not leave because we are in a “common law marriage” and, therefore, this house is just as much his as it is mine.
I don’t want to stay in a toxic relationship, but I also can’t afford to end it. Is this true? Does he have a claim to the house under common law marriage? What can I do about the debt I can’t afford on my own? I feel like such a failure. Please help!
Your boyfriend is either misinformed or lying. It’s extremely unlikely that you have a common-law marriage.
Fewer than a dozen states recognize common-law marriage. Even if you reside in one of those states, simply living together doesn’t establish a common-law marriage. You also have to intend to get married and present yourself to the public as a married couple. It doesn’t sound like that applies here. Even in states where common-law marriage is recognized, it’s most commonly applied to determine who should inherit one partner’s property if they die without a will.
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So that means the home, car and furniture you bought in your name only is 100% yours. Since your boyfriend isn’t on the deed of the house, you’re allowed to kick him out.
Here’s where things could get sticky: Your boyfriend has lived in your home for several months, and he’s been paying for some expenses. He would likely be considered a tenant, depending on your state’s laws. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to share your home with him for eternity. But if your boyfriend is determined to make this difficult, you may need to consult with an attorney about how to formally evict him.
Getting a roommate seems like the simplest way to replace the money your boyfriend has been contributing. I suspect you won’t have much trouble finding one given the astronomical cost of housing in much of the U.S.
If the car is also in your name only and you can survive without a vehicle, consider going carless. Since used cars are fetching near-record prices, you may be able to recoup most, if not all of your loan balance. If you need a car, consider whether you could use your ride to earn extra money by driving for a ride-share company or making deliveries.
You could also ask your credit card companies for a hardship agreement, which can temporarily reduce or even pause your payments. There’s no guarantee your credit card company will offer you an agreement. Of course, this would be a temporary fix. Your odds of approval will be better if you can document the loss of income when your boyfriend moves out.
If this debt feels truly insurmountable, you may want to seek out credit counseling. The Financial Counseling Organization of America or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) both maintain directories on their websites of reputable counseling agencies, most of which are nonprofits.
Try to use this as a learning experience for future relationships. Should you move in with another partner, signing a cohabitation agreement is a must if you aren’t married. Make sure you can pay 100% of any future debt you take on in your name only.
But please don’t think of yourself as a failure for being in this incredibly common situation. You took on debt because you were planning to build a future with your boyfriend. You’ve realized that’s a future you don’t want. Untangling yourself from this relationship will cause some short-term financial pain. But the payoff will be more than worth it in the long run.
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