The Moneyist: Is my boyfriend of 13 years entitled to half my house? I bought it 12 years ago — and he never helped with the bills

United States

Dear Quentin,

My boyfriend and I have separated after 13 years of dating. Twelve years ago, I purchased a home. We have never shared finances and none of his money was used in purchasing the home. He has never helped with the bills or the mortgage payments, and I never asked. He is now claiming that he’s entitled to half the value of the house when I purchased it 12 years ago.

Am I correct that he is entitled to nothing?

The Ex

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Dear Ex,

Living with you rent-free does not a legal beneficiary make.

Some states acknowledge common-law marriage, but it is difficult for your ex-boyfriend to prove and enforce. For instance, you would have had to present yourself as married to friends, family and/or clubs or employers etc. Chief among those prerequisites is consent: both parties must typically consent to being engaged in a common-law marriage.

I received a very similar question last year from the other side of the equation, a man who wondered whether he was entitled to millions of dollars of his boyfriend’s earnings while they were together. You can read my response here. As I explained, common-law marriage derives from an old law, and exists in a handful of U.S. states, as an elective option.

“The phrase ‘common law’ originates with England and refers to those non-ceremonial marriages that were valid under English law. In the 1877 case Meister v. Moore, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a non-ceremonial marriage was a valid enforceable marriage, unless a state’s statute forbade it,” according to The Harris Law Firm in Colorado.

“Colorado’s statutes have not invalidated common law marriages and, consequently, they continue to this day. In addition to Colorado, only nine other states and Washington, D.C., continue to allow the establishment of a common law marriage. Those nine states are Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.”

He wants a payoff after 13 years? He’s out of luck.

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