A brand new ruling from the North Carolina Court of Appeals (the second highest court in North Carolina, below only the North Carolina Supreme Court) has strengthened financial protections between unmarried couples.
The court’s opinion in Alexandra Curry v. David F. Mitchell has potentially wide ranging implications for unmarried and same sex couples in North Carolina.
The ruling essentially says that unmarried couples have a special relationship with each other and therefore have special obligations to not take financial advantage of the other.
The facts of the case show that the parties had been married, and then divorced. But they resumed their romantic relationship after the divorce and lived together for years afterwards. They purchased a house while Ms. Curry was pregnant with the couple’s child. Ms. Curry put $25,000 of her own money into the purchase of the house. But, the deed to the house was put in Mr. Mitchell’s name only (we do not know why).
Ordinarily, Ms. Curry would lose her $25,000 because title to the house was only in Mr. Mitchell’s name and the parties were not married when they purchased the house, or at any time after that point. Married couples enjoy financial protections that prevent this kind of situation through equitable distribution. But unmarried couples do not get to use equitable distribution.
While we do not know exactly why the Court extended the law to help Ms. Curry, there are some factors that may have played a role. Mr. Mitchell had apparently promised many times verbally and in writing to return the $25,000 to Ms. Curry. And, Ms. Curry was pregnant with Mr. Mitchell’s child when they bought the house. Lastly, the Court described the parties as “long time domestic companions”. Those facts certainly make Ms. Curry a sympathetic figure.
This opinion has huge potential ramifications for same sex couples because in the eyes of the law of this State, same sex couples are not married. Therefore, like unmarried heterosexual couples, they do not enjoy the protections of equitable distribution.
The Curry case will most likely be used by same sex couples and other unmarried couples to obtain a fair or “equitable” portion of property that the couple has accumulated during the relationship after a break up.
The North Carollina Supreme Court can still alter or even overrule the Curry case. But, unless and until that happens, the case may provide significant new rights for unmarried and same sex couples.