Uncoupling for the Unhitched

More people than you think live together as members of a couple, not a marriage. In the course of that relationship they accumulate 'things', like property, assets, debts, and children. Some of these relationships can go on for years before ending. Others are even quite successful, continuing on until the death of a partner.

But not all unmarried couples are so fortunate. For some, as H. L. Mencken said, "Happiness is the china shop; love is the bull."

And so, they reach a point in their lives when they need to uncouple. But, que lastima, they're not entitled to the same privileges married people have.  Unmarried partners in a relationship may think they should be entitled to an equitable division of assets and debts. But the courts treat unmarried couples as single individuals, so the rules of community property and their division don't apply to them. Those same courts, however, can assert jurisdiction if minor children are involved, but this requires active participation by the mother and father.

So is anything available for an uncoupling couple? Yes. They can opt for mediation no matter what status they have, married or not. Men and women can choose to negotiate the way they're going to separate. They can agree to a distribution of assets and debts and have a mediator put it on paper. Once signed by the duo it's a contract, and if one of the pair violates the terms they agreed to the other can pursue the matter legally.

The parents can also reach an agreement regarding any minor children they may have together.  Parents--straight or gay--can  negotiate where the children will spend their time (a parenting plan), how the kids will spend their holidays and vacation time, whether child support is required, and how the parents will make major decisions regarding their offspring.

It's in working out how the children will spend time with their parents where uncoupled parents are apt to run into snags. When a child is 2 or 3, it's pretty easy for parents to spend equal time with them. (Imagine a couple who opts to have their child every other week. The child won't mind.) But then they start school and the sharing arrangement suddenly becomes more difficult. And that's not even taking the child's normal, natural distancing themselves from the parents, which usually begins once they learn to say 'No!' (And what if they have more than one child?)

Mediation can offer unmarried parents a safer way to navigate the obstacles they may face, because the outcome of a successful mediation is a document. Signed documents make it clear what the former couple agreed to do and how they will deal with their children.  Mediation should always be considered if one or both people, looking out to the future, see dark shapes on the horizon.