A cohabitation agreement, also known as a “living together agreement” is a legal contract detailing the rights, responsibilities, and expectations of unmarried couples living together.
This is where a cohabitation agreement can be a powerful tool. Let’s explore how.
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What’s a Cohabitation Agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement. Both are legal documents, with the difference being that prenups are specifically for couples planning to wed.
Cohabitation agreements vary in complexity and can be tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of unmarried partners. They serve as a way to protect the interests and assets of each partner in case the relationship ends or if there are disagreements in the future.
They also lay out the ground rules for your relationship, such as who’s responsible for which bills and if one person will financially support the other.
Who Should Get A Cohabitation Agreement?
Cohabitation agreements are not limited to romantic couples. They can also be helpful to people choosing to live together for various reasons, such as sharing living expenses, raising a family, or pooling resources.
If you’re romantically involved, consider this: California doesn’t recognize common-law marriage, so no matter how long you’ve been living together, you and your partner are considered “single” in the eyes of the law.
If you break up, there’s no legal backing for who is entitled to which assets or if one of you should receive financial support. With no written agreement in place, you’re left to your own devices to sort through who gets what.
This is where a cohabitation agreement can be helpful.
What To Include in a Cohabitation Agreement
Much like prenuptial agreements, a cohabitation agreement is highly flexible and can include various topics, from who gets the cat to which person handles the investments.
Here are some common matters to cover in a cohabitation agreement:
1. Financial Matters
- Property Ownership: Specify how separate property (real estate, vehicles, assets) acquired before and during the relationship will be owned and managed.
- Financial Contributions: Detail how both partners will share or divide living expenses, bills, and debts.
- Bank Accounts: Address whether joint bank accounts will be established and how they’ll be managed.
- Payments After Cohabitation: Discuss the potential for one party to provide some form of support to the other party if the relationship ends.
- Personal Belongings: Clarify ownership and division of personal property, including furniture, electronics, and sentimental possessions.
- Real Estate: Determine the status of any jointly owned property and the procedure for selling or transferring it.
- Pets: Decide on the custody and care of pets, including responsibilities for expenses
- Household Chores: Specify who is responsible for various household tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, and maintenance.
- Decision-Making: Address how major decisions, such as medical choices or investments, will be made.
3. Duration and Termination
- Define the conditions under which the cohabitation agreement will become effective and how long it will remain in force.
- Describe the procedures for terminating the agreement, including notice periods and dispute resolution mechanisms.
4. Dispute Resolution
- Include provisions for resolving conflicts, such as mediation or arbitration, rather than resorting to litigation.
5. Inheritance and Survivorship
- Specify how to distribute assets in the event of one partner’s death, including any rights to inherit property or assets.
6. Legal Jurisdiction
- Identify the governing law and jurisdiction in case of any legal disputes.
Your cohabitation agreement is a legal document tailored to your relationship needs and presents a great opportunity for you and your partner to define your roles and expectations.
Is a Cohabitation Agreement Legally Binding?
With proper execution, most states consider a cohabitation agreement legally valid. There are stipulations you should be aware of, though.
First, contract laws vary from state to state, so you’ll want to verify that your agreement is in accordance with your state’s laws. Additionally, a court may invalidate your agreement if it finds the terms unreasonable or if the contract was signed under duress.
While you and your partner can technically write a cohabitation agreement yourselves, the best way to ensure it holds up in a court of law is to consult with a family law attorney.
Final Word on Cohabitation Agreements
Whether or not to create a cohabitation agreement depends on your unique circumstances.
Younger couples may enter their living situation with a lesser need to protect their assets or outline roles.
On the other hand, a cohabitation agreement may be more logical for older couples who have accumulated property over the years.
The most important thing to remember is that if you’re going to do it, make sure it’s a collaborative process and that you cross your t’s and dot your i’s.
To find out if a cohabitation agreement is right for your relationship, feel free to get in touch with me for a consultation call.
I’m passionate about giving couples as many resources as possible to ensure a happy and lasting relationship.