My partner and I have been together for 5 years. We are not married. In that time he has been the primary and, often, the sole breadwinner.
When we met, he had several million dollars in investment accounts as well as earning a substantial salary ($400,000 to $800,000 a year depending on bonuses). In that time, he paid off previous debt that I had incurred. We have lived a good life with lots of travel, and many other luxuries.
At one point he was offered a job in Europe and I left my new job in the U.S. to join him, a decision that left me unable to earn an income and continue to depend on him for his money.
We share a couple of joint bank accounts, but the vast majority of his money is in accounts in his name only. I have never thought that money should be under both of our names as that was money he had earned before we had even met.
In the time we’ve been together he has made $2 million to $3 million in income, and he has sold real estate that was owned before we met totaling $1 million. If we separated in the U.S., would I be entitled to anything from him?
The short answer is no.
Now for the long answer: Common-law marriage was an old English law, and today only exists in a handful of U.S. states as an elective option. That is, you legally declare yourselves common-law spouses. You are not considered married in the eyes of the court or the government just because you lived together for 5, 10 or even 20 years.
You willingly acknowledge that he was the main breadwinner, he paid off debt and, when he got a job overseas, you made the decision to give up your job in the U.S. and follow him, and allowed him to pay for your living expenses. These choices afforded you a certain lifestyle, and you did not have the career, or the savings, you would have had otherwise.
A few years ago, a couple split after 23 years together in Rhode Island. Angela wanted to the court to declare her union with Kevin a common-law marriage so she would inherit part of his home. In a Providence County Family Court judgment, the judge agreed based on evidence in letters and how they presented themselves to family and friends.
Despite being included in family portraits and Kevin’s sister even addressing them as Mr. and Mrs. in a Christmas card, and Kevin wearing a ring on his wedding finger, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island in 2018 overturned the lower court’s decision. Kevin did not consider them married, and nor did the Supreme Court, even though they were together for two decades.
This is a good time to evaluate your relationship with yourself, and your priorities in life. What do you want to be remembered for? What do you enjoy doing? And could you turn that into a career? What contribution to society would you like to make? There are no certainties in life — as 2020 has shown. Your retirement, career and financial plans should ideally exist outside of your relationship.
You are not entitled to your boyfriend’s money, even though you share some of the same bank accounts. That’s a gift rather than an entitlement. You are entitled to a big, rewarding and unpredictable life where you are the driver of your own destiny. You are entitled to use your talents, interests and skills to help others. You can reclaim the word, and your career along with it.
Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check outthe Moneyist private Facebook
group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.