Protecting Your Rights While Cohabitating

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Nobody wants to go through a divorce.

But what happens when you end a long-term relationship and divorce isn’t an option? The question is becoming more and more relevant. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there was an unusually large increase in unmarried cohabitating couples from 2009 to 2010. Opposite-sex unmarried cohabitating couples jumped from 6.7 million in 2009 to 7.5 million in 2010, a 13 percent increase. In 2009, over half of same-sex couples living together self-reported themselves as unmarried, whether or not they lived in a state allowing same-sex marriage or civil unions.

Researchers at the U.S. Census Bureau speculate economic factors, such as extended unemployment, may have played a key role in the change. This can create difficult situations for the couple moving forward. For example, suppose an unmarried man and woman live together for 10 years in a home with title to the man. The man then dies unexpectedly without a cohabitation agreement or will. The man’s house will pass to intestate heirs, such as parents or children – who may ask the woman to leave the home she has been living in for 10 years.

Protecting Your Rights While Cohabitating

The above example is not the only reason to create a cohabitation agreement. There are intangible benefits, such as spelling out expectations of the relationship, but also very necessary clarifications such as:

  • Who can make medical decisions if the other person cannot
  • Health insurance coverage
  • Financial support during the relationship, and after if the relationship ends
  • Estate planning, and whether the couple will share assets after death

State laws often protect a married couple’s lower wage earner or stay-at-home parent, but cohabitating couples get no such protection. Even if you do live in one of the few states that recognize common law marriage, a cohabitation agreement provides more certainty than trusting to common law marriage state law.

A cohabitation agreement is especially important if:

  • There are income discrepancies between the couple, or one person is supporting the other
  • There are children, either adopted by the couple or from a previous relationship
  • There is a house, either owned jointly or with title in one person’s name only

Because a cohabitation agreement can be a sophisticated legal document, you should use an attorney to create one. In fact, both individuals may want to have their own attorney to consult when creating the agreement. If you are in a live-in relationship, speak with a family law attorney in your area to acquire security for yourself and for your relationship.

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