Cohabitation Agreements

By Allison Fredrickson | Family & Divorce Law

Why do couples draft cohabitation agreements?

  • Many couples live together without getting married
  • Protect themselves financially
  • Avoid costly litigation if the relationship ends
  • They co-mingle bank accounts
  • They buy property together
  • They obtain financing for loans or incur joint debt

With more and more couples living together without being married, the need for individuals to have legally enforceable agreements in the case of separation has increased. Prenuptial agreements are used to protect and define what happens with assets should a marriage end in divorce. However, unmarried couples need a contract of their own, called a “cohabitation agreement.” Many of the issues that need to be contained in a cohabitation agreement can be discussed and mediated between the parties because there is not a dissolution of the relationship at the time when you are seeking to draft the agreement.

What kinds of things need to be in a cohabitation agreement?

  1. Define joint and separate property. This goes for cars, real property, bank accounts and debts. Decide if you will share things 50/50 in the event of a breakup and be as specific as possible about how ownership is currently defined, joint titles, etc.
  2. Define responsibility for debts. Parties are not responsible for debts in the other person’s name like they are when they are married, UNLESS they sign as a co-signer. Be sure to include how those debts will be divided and who will be responsible should a breakdown of the relationship occur. Ultimately, creditors look to the persons listed on the debt to pay it.
  3. Managing Finances. Parties should be clear about how bills are paid and finances managed. For example, if one party is going to pay for the house payment and one pays for all the utilities, insurance and other home related bills, define how the equity gain gets split. You don’t want to run into a situation where the party paying the house payment says they are entitled to it all since they paid the mortgage payment on their own.
  4. Support Payments. Normally, unmarried couples would not be entitled to any kind of ongoing support if the relationship ends. If either party feels like they will need some type of temporary support payment if there is a breakup, they should put that in writing. Parties going from relying on two incomes in one house and going to two separate houses should consider things like moving expenses or money for a down payment on an apartment or furnishings for their new home.
  5. Enforcement. Make sure to include how you will enforce the agreement in the event of a breakup. If one of your breaches the agreement, then you can agree to a specific dispute resolution method like mediation or arbitration, saving you both time and money.

Working with a knowledgeable family law team will protect your interests when entering into a relationship where cohabitation is contemplated. We can tailor your agreement to the needs of you and your partner and mediate any areas of disagreement.


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