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Living With Cohabitation Laws in Indiana

Cohabitation, cohabitation agreements, common law marriages, same-sex marriages and couples, and heterosexual couples all involve combining households in some fashion. The cohabitation laws in Indiana can be a source of confusion, especially when relationships change or cease. The attorneys at Camden & Meridew, P.C., can help you navigate the nuances of cohabitation law so that you understand both your rights and your responsibilities, particularly when cohabitation ends.

Breaking Down the Cohabitation Laws in Indiana when Breaking Up

Anybody who has ever lived with someone else understands that there are expectations and understandings that go along with living with another person. Each party in such an arrangement might know exactly who is responsible for which financial obligation, and some employers offer benefits to partners of same-sex couples. Do unmarried couples have rights after a break-up? What happens in the case where an unmarried couple that lives together ultimately breaks up where one party had paid the majority of expenses? Can the party who paid those expenses recover from his or her former partner? Read on to learn how Indiana law handles this and similar situations.

Does Common Law Marriage Exist in Indiana?

Indiana does not recognize most common law marriages. Under Indiana Code § 31-11-8-5, “[a] marriage is void if the marriage is a common law marriage that was entered into after January 1, 1958.” Thus, unless you are looking at a common law marriage that occurred before 1958, Indiana does not recognize common law marriage between parties who live together. But that does not mean that cohabiting parties are without rights.

Unmarried Couple Rights under Cohabitation Laws in Indiana

Indiana does not recognize common law marriages; however, Indiana does recognize cohabitation between unmarried parties. As defined in Bright v. Kuehl, cohabitation exists when parties live together without subsequent marriage. If the cohabitation ends, however, divorce law does not apply. Divorce law determines how property and responsibilities are to be allocated only in the termination of a marriage. Partners seeking recovery after cohabitation ends may rely on an express contract (such as an Indiana cohabitation agreement) or seek equitable relief.

Recovery Based on an Indiana Cohabitation Agreement

If parties cohabit, it is possible to recover from the former partner after the cohabitation arrangement ends if the parties had an Indiana cohabitation agreement. Like a prenuptial agreement, a cohabitation agreement may define the division of the parties’ property and other forms of compensation after the cohabitation ends.

Fair is Fair: Looking at Equity to Recover From a Former Cohabiting Partner

In the absence of an express Indiana cohabitation agreement, the cohabiting party who paid the parties’ expenses may be able to recover some of those expenses from the former partner based on equitable principles. In law, equity refers to remedies based on principles of fairness. In the context of recovery following the end of cohabitation, this may be done by establishing the existence of an implied contract or unjust enrichment. 

As explained in Bright, to recover under an implied contract theory, the paying cohabitant must establish that the former cohabitation partner impliedly or expressly requested the benefits conferred. In other words, the person seeking reimbursement must be able to show that the former partner agreed, implicitly or explicitly, to bear part of the expenses or payments or reimburse for expenses or payments paid on his or her behalf.

To recover under a theory of unjust enrichment, the paying cohabitant must show one of two things:

  • The former cohabitation partner accepted unrequested benefits despite having the opportunity to decline those benefits; or
  • The retention of those benefits would unjustly enrich the former cohabitation partner.

Understanding Indiana Law and Cohabitation

Whether you have a question about Indiana common law marriage or a general question about Indiana law and cohabitation or you are wondering about a particular Indiana cohabitation agreement, using an Indiana attorney with knowledge of the intricacies and delicate nature of cohabitation laws in Indiana can help.

To learn more about cohabitation laws in Indiana or to seek legal representation regarding a cohabitation issue or Indiana cohabitation agreement, contact Julie Camden at Camden & Meridew, P.C., by calling 317-770-0000 or using the firm’s online contact form.