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LEGAL DICTIONARY

Cohabitation

What Is Cohabitation?

Cohabitation is the term for two adults who are living together as a couple but who are not legally married.

When two people are married, the law defines what each partner owes the other in the event of a divorce. For example, one partner may be required to pay alimony or child support to the other partner.

On the other hand, unless there is a signed cohabitation agreement between two parties, there are no rules and regulations regarding what happens to shared property or income if the relationship ends.

What Is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a legal contract between two unmarried people living together as a couple. The agreement spells out cohabitation rights regarding property, debts, inheritances, and other estate planning and healthcare decisions, as well as how they will be handled if the couple breaks up or one partner dies.

Without a cohabitation agreement in place, someone is not considered a legal heir of their cohabitating partner and does not have the right to make medical decisions in the same way a spouse does.

Here are some essential elements that should be part of a cohabitation agreement in the event of one person’s passing or a breakup:

  • How will the jointly-owned property be distributed?
  • What happens to retirement savings?
  • How will inheritances and gifts be handled?
  • What are healthcare directives, and who should make these decisions?
  • Who pays for ongoing expenses?
  • Who has power of attorney?
  • Are there any custody issues involving your children or children from previous relationships?
  • Are there expectations of financial support for one another?

The agreement is important in all states but perhaps even more so in states that recognize common-law marriage. Laws regarding cohabitation vary by state, and some have different rules defining cohabitation and common-law marriage.

The four requirements for common-law marriage

In most of the states that recognize common law marriage, the four requirements are:

  1. Living together
  2. Not being married to someone else
  3. Intending to be married
  4. Presenting your relationship to family and friends as a marriage

Meanwhile, the following do not qualify as evidence of a common-law marriage: Jointly owned property, having a lease agreement in both of your names, commingling finances, and naming the other person on your health insurance.

Regardless, look up your state’s requirements to see if your situation qualifies or not.

Start Your Cohabitation Agreement

A Cohabitation Agreement vs. a Pre-nuptial Agreement

Although they have similarities, a cohabitation agreement is different from a pre-nuptial agreement. The first one is for people who do not plan to be married, while the latter is for a couple planning to be married.

Typically, a pre-nuptial agreement is more complicated and requires more financial disclosures than a cohabitation agreement. However, each situation is unique.

You may wish to consult an attorney before signing a cohabitation agreement to make sure you have covered everything you need to cover to protect your legal rights.

Helpful Resources:

ALM - Cohabitation Definition

Brookings - Cohabiting parents differ from married ones in three big ways

LawInfo - Cohabitation Property Rights for Unmarried Couples

Kiplinger - What Is a Cohabitation Agreement? And Who Should Get One

What Is Cohabitation?

Cohabitation is the term for two adults who are living together as a couple but who are not legally married.

When two people are married, the law defines what each partner owes the other in the event of a divorce. For example, one partner may be required to pay alimony or child support to the other partner.

On the other hand, unless there is a signed cohabitation agreement between two parties, there are no rules and regulations regarding what happens to shared property or income if the relationship ends.

What Is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a legal contract between two unmarried people living together as a couple. The agreement spells out cohabitation rights regarding property, debts, inheritances, and other estate planning and healthcare decisions, as well as how they will be handled if the couple breaks up or one partner dies.

Without a cohabitation agreement in place, someone is not considered a legal heir of their cohabitating partner and does not have the right to make medical decisions in the same way a spouse does.

Here are some essential elements that should be part of a cohabitation agreement in the event of one person’s passing or a breakup:

  • How will the jointly-owned property be distributed?
  • What happens to retirement savings?
  • How will inheritances and gifts be handled?
  • What are healthcare directives, and who should make these decisions?
  • Who pays for ongoing expenses?
  • Who has power of attorney?
  • Are there any custody issues involving your children or children from previous relationships?
  • Are there expectations of financial support for one another?

The agreement is important in all states but perhaps even more so in states that recognize common-law marriage. Laws regarding cohabitation vary by state, and some have different rules defining cohabitation and common-law marriage.

The four requirements for common-law marriage

In most of the states that recognize common law marriage, the four requirements are:

  1. Living together
  2. Not being married to someone else
  3. Intending to be married
  4. Presenting your relationship to family and friends as a marriage

Meanwhile, the following do not qualify as evidence of a common-law marriage: Jointly owned property, having a lease agreement in both of your names, commingling finances, and naming the other person on your health insurance.

Regardless, look up your state’s requirements to see if your situation qualifies or not.

Start Your Cohabitation Agreement

A Cohabitation Agreement vs. a Pre-nuptial Agreement

Although they have similarities, a cohabitation agreement is different from a pre-nuptial agreement. The first one is for people who do not plan to be married, while the latter is for a couple planning to be married.

Typically, a pre-nuptial agreement is more complicated and requires more financial disclosures than a cohabitation agreement. However, each situation is unique.

You may wish to consult an attorney before signing a cohabitation agreement to make sure you have covered everything you need to cover to protect your legal rights.

Helpful Resources:

ALM - Cohabitation Definition

Brookings - Cohabiting parents differ from married ones in three big ways

LawInfo - Cohabitation Property Rights for Unmarried Couples

Kiplinger - What Is a Cohabitation Agreement? And Who Should Get One