WHAT IS A COHABITATION AGREEMENT?
A cohabitation agreement is a contract between two unmarried individuals who wish to outline their financial and legal obligations either during the relationship, in the event of a break-up, or both. The cohabitation agreement can cover everything from who pays the electric bill or cell phone payment, to making important medical decisions for your partner in the event of an emergency. Entering into a cohabitation agreement is generally a good idea for couples who plan to live together long-term, or who will make substantial purchases together (like property, vehicles, or taking out a mortgage or monetary loan), and whose assets may co-mingle (such as high-priced electronics, furniture, jewelry, and home appliances).
LEGALITY OF MARRIAGE VS. COHABITATION AGREEMENTS
In essence, marriage is a legal contract where state law regulates the terms of the marriage agreement. In order to end the marriage, the couple will decide to get a divorce. If the two are unable to come to a mutual agreement about how to allocate property, determine alimony and resolve issues having to do with children and family, a judge will make the decision for them based on that particular state’s law. However, when unmarried couples decide to live together, there is no law governing the division of property once the relationship comes to an end. Unlike a prenuptial agreement, which is meant for those intending on getting married, a cohabitation agreement is a way for unmarried couples to protect themselves by establishing their legal rights and obligations if they were to decide to go their separate ways. The agreement can be of your own making – it is uniquely tailored to the conditions of a couple’s relationship dynamics, and can be as specific or as flexible as the couple desires.
WHY HAVE COHABITATION AGREEMENTS BECOME MORE POPULAR?
Over the past decade, the number of romantic partners making the decision to move in together without the intention or promise of marriage has significantly increased. The motives behind taking this giant step forward in a relationship nowadays are quite obvious – one of the greatest reasons being that the sanctity of marriage is losing its value. Couples don’t feel the same pressure to make things official as they did years ago – and some may even be discouraged by the institution of marriage due to the high rate of divorce. Quite frankly, there are a number of financial benefits for couple’s cohabitating. Splitting rent or mortgage payments, utility bills, and even means of transportation can make a huge difference in terms of economic stability for two people. Not to mention the high cost of a decent wedding can cost a small fortune. For most couples, moving in together is an exciting step in their relationship, filled with optimism and bliss, which doesn’t make it easy to consider the legal implications of cohabitating while unmarried. For example, in the event that a couple breaks up after years of living and accumulating property together, who gets to stay in the house or apartment and who has to move out? How will items that were bought together be divided? What about pets? As unromantic and uncomfortable as it may be, developing a cohabitation agreement in the event that the relationship does not last can minimize the possibility for financial and emotional despair in the future.
HOW CAN GBY & ASSOCIATES HELP?
A cohabitation agreement can establish who owns what and in what capacity, if there will be any financial support once the relationship is over (especially if there are any children or pets involved), and how to deal with any debts the couple may have or obligations to make payments. It can even establish the right for one of the partners to make medical decisions for the other party and/or the right to act as a guardian or conservator if one partner is incapacitated.
GBY & Associates can help with the creation of a cohabitation agreement by determining what should be in it – considering age, employment, lifestyle, and a couple’s circumstances simultaneously. Fortunately, in the event that there are new employment or relocation opportunities for one or both parties, or even a family emergency perhaps, GBY & Associates can assist you with updating your agreement or renewing it if necessary. It is strongly suggested that each partner obtain separate attorneys to look over the document before it is signed and witnessed to insure that the agreement is not only fair, but legally binding as well.
Remember, similar to a prenuptial agreements, creating a cohabitation agreement does not mean a couple is planning on breaking up. They are not meant to hinder a relationship; instead, they are meant protect individuals, whose lives are intertwined, acting as a safety net for the unexpected. Things change and life happens. In a perfect world, relationships would work out as planned from the start. But just in case it doesn’t, a written cohabitation agreement will reduce the likelihood that one of the individuals is unprotected, and more importantly, minimize the financial and emotional distress of a potential break-up.