The Foolish (Legal) Things We Do For Love

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and while being in love does wonders for your heart, if you don’t bring your head along for the ride, your legal rights and obligations can be a train wreck.

Below are some common things people do all in the name of being in a relationship which almost ALWAYS end badly for those involved.

  1. CO-MINGLING ASSETS - Sometimes moving in together may seem like the most logical step in a relationship, but sharing a joint bank account, putting both names on property and having a jointly held asset like a vehicle can create serious problems. If two people who are NOT married have their names on an asset, in the event of a break up, the asset is not subject to division as it would be if the parties were married. You may have to buy the other person out, sue to get possession of an item or, worse case scenario- if the person leaves town and you are left holding an asset with their name attached to it, track them down and go to considerable legal expense to clear things up. Best to keep what’s his-his, and what’s hers-hers.

  2. CO-SIGNING FOR YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER - Seems easy enough- your honey is badly in need of a new car. He’s been down on his luck lately and you two seem to be the only thing working out. You two find the perfect car and then he goes to finance it. Unfortunately his credit isn’t good. The helpful salesperson then comes up with the idea of having you co-sign for his loan. He will still be the one making the payments and the car will be titled in his name, it’s just this small minor detail that will help him get the financing. No big deal if he’s the one responsible for the payments right? WRONG! By co-signing the loan you are guaranteeing that in the event honey doesn’t pay YOU WILL. And nine chances out of 10 honey doesn’t pay and you are the one now getting collection notices from the lender. Oh, and don’t forget the car is titled in his name. If you’re lucky he’s still in town and you can try to sue him to get possession of it when things go south. If not, he has a car free of charge thanks to you and you’re left holding the bill. Let honey handle his own finances. Be there for moral support and encouragement - not financial.

  3. RELYING ON YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER AS YOUR SOURCE OF INCOME - Mom always said be able to stand on your own two feet and it was good advice then and still is now. Everyone goes through hard times financially. It’s a different situation entirely though when you have absolutely no assets in your name and your entire life is tied to someone else who you have no legal ties to. If you are down on your luck and you find a generous soul to hitch yourself to- things may work out swimmingly. If they don’t though- and all of the bank accounts, credit cards, name on the lease and utilities are your significant other’s name– when she leaves for greener pastures you are stuck. Even if you aren’t able to stand COMPLETELY on your own- do as much as you can in your own name. Make sure that if you both have to walk away from the relationship you’re not leaving empty handed.

  4. ASSUMING YOU WILL BE TREATED AS IF YOU’RE MARRIED EVEN THOUGH YOU AREN’T - There are certainly enough jokes about the downside to marriage, but it does have its perks. Usually most people will gladly share information with a spouse but will not share it with a boyfriend or girlfriend. In the event that one of you ends up in a hospital or some type of medical treatment facility, absent any legal document giving you power of attorney your rights are very limited. If your significant other has family that become involved their rights will almost always trump yours. In addition to this, there are financial benefits that only married couples can enjoy- tax benefits, inheriting property without going through the probate process, etc..

  5. ASSUMING THINGS WILL CHANGE WHEN THE RELATIONSHIP TURNS VIOLENT - We hear the horrific stories of domestic violence all the time, and despite a push to raise awareness and let people know there are places to turn for help, people still stay in relationships after things have turned sour and their partner’s true colors are shown. Many people stay because of the children they share with their partner, out of fear or because of many of the factors listed above. Their lives are so intertwined with the person they can’t see a way out. Sometimes judgment is simply altered by love. In any event, there ARE places to go and agencies that will help. You DO have legal rights as well. Reaching out for help is the first step.

As always, to speak with an attorney practicing in any of these areas, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at (412) 261-5555 or visit