Considering 20-Year Cohabitation, Trial Court Properly Awarded the Complainant

Family Law Case Review

Case: Jeffrey L. McMahel v. Mary A. Deaton
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: In a cohabitation case, the trial court properly awarded the complainant cash payments and property equal to roughly 30% of the parties’ collective property interests, even though a division based solely on title of assets would have entitled her to about 18% of the parties’ collective property. The trial court based its decision on the equitable considerations of a nearly 20-year cohabitation, during which the parties had a child together.

Jeff and Mary began cohabitating in 1996. They had a child in 1998. They never married, and their relationship ended in 2014.

Mary filed a complaint against Jeff after they separated, alleging unjust enrichment. After a hearing, the trial court concluded that, although Jeff recently went on disability, he was the primary wage earner throughout the relationship. At the time the relationship ended,  the parties had about $14,000 worth of jointly titled assets, Mary had about $30,000 of asset in her own name, and Jeff had about $138,000 assets in his name, including the residence.

The trial court allocated assets totaling about $41,000 to Mary, but also awarded her a “cash equalization” payment of about $13,000. Jeff appealed.

The Court of Appeals denied Jeff’s request to overrule Indiana’s previous cases that provide the legal foundation for cohabitation related claims. Further, the Court agreed with Mary that the equitable circumstances of the parties’ relationship and contributions supported the trial court’s order.  The trial court’s order was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Jeffrey L. McMahel v. Mary A. Deaton



James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at

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