[author: Janet Raasch]
More and more couples are living together without being married. There was a 13 percent increase in such arrangements between 2009 and 2010 alone. At the same time, only 51 percent of all adults are getting married. This is a record low.
Reasons to Cohabitate
Couples choose to cohabitate instead of marry for many reasons. A reported 60 percent of married couples live together before marriage. Many couples live together because same-sex marriage is not recognized in their home state. Older widowed or divorced people live together without marrying in order to preserve their estates. Some couples choose cohabitation because of moral or philosophical beliefs, while other couples do so to save money.
Cohabitation Agreements Are Contracts
A cohabitation agreement is a private contract between long-term cohabitants. It establishes the rights and obligations that married people obtain by law, custom and agreement. Cohabitation agreements are also called non-marital agreements or living-together contracts. They are similar in many ways to prenuptial agreements.
Cohabitation Agreements Are Legally Binding
When drawn up by an attorney, a cohabitation agreement is legally binding. Although California has a cohabitation law, most states do not; a cohabitation agreement fills this void. Although cohabitation is outlawed in Mississippi, Virginia, Florida and Michigan, these laws are generally not enforced and would probably be found unconstitutional if challenged in a court of law.
Put Your Cohabitation Agreement in Writing
A cohabitation agreement should be written. Written agreements carry more weight than implied or oral agreements. An attorney can negotiate and draft an agreement that will be enforceable in your jurisdiction. As part of this process, each party might want to be represented by a different attorney – especially when considerable assets are involved.
Legal Protections for Cohabitants
Without a cohabitation agreement, couples who lived together for decades would be considered strangers when it comes to property rights. A stay-at-home partner could be left penniless by separation or death.
Cohabitation agreements address the ways in which money, property and debt will be dealt with during a relationship, and at its end. Cohabs can cover child custody and support, and partner support. They can include wills and durable powers of attorney, and they often proactively address the issue of dispute resolution.
Define the Relationship
Having a written document ensures that you and your partner (not a future jury) can determine the terms of your agreement. Even if you are morally or philosophically opposed to marriage, it is still a good idea to define the rights, obligations and property distribution included in your long-term relationship.
A Family Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding cohabitation agreements for unmarried couples can be complicated, and the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family lawyer.