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Dear Christine, Protective in Pontiac

| May 22, 2017

Dear Christine,
My girlfriend and I met two years ago at a dance. We now live together, we keep separate bank accounts but share the bills. The house is mine but she wants to protect herself in case we ever breakup. She wants me to put it in writing that if we ever do breakup that she will get a portion of the equity.
The way I see it, she was paying rent before she met me and she is paying rent now so I’m not feeling good about giving her ownership in a house that I have lived in for 30 years. In fact, the home was may parents and I bought it from them before they passed. I do love her but I’m having a hard time giving her what she wants and she’s feeling hurt and I’m afraid it might be a deal breaker for her. Am I wrong to want to protect my assets?
Signed Protective in Pontiac
Dear Protective,
Pre-nups are never very romantic, but they have a purpose.  Each person in a relationship, whether married or just living together, has rights and responsibilities as well as assets.  And, just putting something “in writing” is not the best method, as most people’s writing would not pass muster in court, and that’s where it counts. 
By all means you should protect your assets!  That’s where lawyers come in, say, Daniel Gwinn at www.gwinntaurianinenlaw.com.  Your girlfriend also wants to protect her investment in your home.  She has been paying you rent and she would be paying rent to live somewhere.  Normally, rent does not turn into an asset, unless you have a special rent-to-own deal. 
The two of you are in a committed relationship together, presumably to build a future together.  In that case, protecting each other by legally marrying is the easiest option.  Or, you could sign a Quit Claim Deed with Rights of Survivorship is you want her to be included on the deed, or be able to stay in the house if you were to die.  Of course, even if you marry, you might want to protect assets obtained before the marriage, such as inheritance, a house or other investments.  That is possible, and if there is a chance of a divorce or break up, it will make that go a lot smoother for both of you.  Your girlfriend probably wants to feel equal to you in the relationship.  But the relationship is only 2 years along.  And you aren’t legally committed to each other.  I don’t think she has a right to demand or request half the house as settlement if there’s a split, but perhaps you would want to assure her of a cash payment to help her resettle (first and last months’ rent, maybe?). 
My wife and I went through this exact scenario.  When we met, I moved from an apartment into her house that was almost paid off.  I moved in and paid her rent.  We still share bills but have separate accounts.  After a couple of years, she did sign a Quit Claim Deed with Rights of Survivorship so I would be assured a place to live if she died.
Eventually, we bought a new house together in both of our names, and later we legally married.  I am committed to treating her fairly, should we divorce for any reason.  Since she has contributed more than half towards this house,  I would want help in resettling.
We would definitely use a therapist and/or ediator and/or lawyer or two to divide assets fairly, which is not necessarily evenly.  Our marriage protects each of our rights.  My personal commitment is not to mistreat someone I love(d) should that relationship end for whatever reason. 
So, I encourage you both to do research.  Talk to a lawyer, talk to friends who have not married by have shared a home that one bought before meeting the other.  Find out what works for both of you.  Keep talking, though, to find out what assumptions, feelings or meanings lie beneath the words each of you use.  Understand how each of you thinks about this relationship and commitment to each other.  Get into couple’s therapy to have someone mediate the conversation and keep the tone friendly.  And good luck.  Sincerely,
Christine Cantrell, PhD Licensed Psychologist

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067
248-591-2888

Click here to email Christine.

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