It is not uncommon for couple to live together prior to marriage, and it is becoming even more common for unmarried couples to purchase property together prior to marriage.  This arrangement is often referred to as “cohabitation.”  While cohabitation is becoming more common, it is important to note that unmarried couples do not have the same benefits and legal rights as married couples.  What happens in the event of the relationship ending or one person dying is not clear or provided for in state statute.

However, if an unmarried couple’s relationship ends, there is nothing governing the split of property as there would be if the couple had been married.  Cohabitating families can also find themselves facing difficulties should they split up, especially if children are involved.  However, a cohabitating couple can take proactive steps to help protect their rights while also safeguarding their individual interests and assets in the form of a cohabitation agreement.

I recently represented a couple who were purchasing a home together early on in their relationship.  They were ready to move in together, and purchasing a home was a financially beneficial choice for each of them, but they had no intention or near-future plans of marrying.  However, one party was bringing the majority of the down payment, and was to be the only party on title and on the mortgage.  To protect themselves and each other, they chose to execute a cohabitation agreement to address how things would be divided/split should the relationship end.  They were also able to plan for what would happen with the property in the event one of them died.

A cohabitation agreement is a contract that spells out the legal relationship between an unmarried, cohabitating couple.  The agreement creates an enforceable contract which can detail “who gets what” in the event an unmarried couple decides to part ways.  The contract can be detailed and specific to every aspect of the relationship, or it could cover only one transaction, such as a new home purchase.  Cohabitation agreements are well suited for couples who share money and property but who do not wish to get married, or do not have immediate plans of marriage.

Cohabitation agreements and related planning can address the following issues:

  • Property and finances, including the property you owned before you began the relationship and property that either or both of you accumulate during the relationship;
  • Property inherited or received by gift during the relationship;
  • Division/Transfer of the jointly owned home when the relationship ends or one party dies;
  • How the debts of each party will be paid;
  • How expenses, such as housing, foods, and utilities, will be paid;
  • How expenses of pets will be paid and who will keep any pets if the relationship ends;
  • Who will make final medical decisions in the event of an unexpected emergency; and
  • The right to act as a guardian or conservator if one partner is incapacitated

For those who desire the structure and protection that the law sometimes affords those who marry, creating a cohabitation agreement is a great proactive step to afford you such protections.  Schromen Law, LLC can help you through the process of establishing a cohabitation agreement and answer any other legal concerns.

The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between Schromen Law, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice.


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    1. February 7, 2018

      This is a fantastic idea and tool. What a great way to help families know what to do in the event that someone else had to manage their affairs. Awesome!

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