Jump to Section
Need help with a Cohabitation Agreement?
What is a Cohabitation Agreement?
Over the past ten years, there has been a drastic rise in the number of unmarried partners living together. When unmarried partners cohabitate, they are not subject to the same laws and protections as married couples. As a result, when nonmarried partners split, there can be costly and complicated disputes over property and finances.
To avoid these issues, nonmarried partners have started utilizing cohabitation agreements.
A cohabitation agreement is a legal document, sometimes called a nonmarital agreement, that protects the rights of the couple and ensures financial security for both parties. This written contract is negotiated between the partners and lays out the obligations of each person.
Some of the issues that may be agreed upon within the cohabitation agreement include:
- Property and debt that each person had before moving in together
- Contributions that each partner will make while living together (how much each partner will put towards common bills like rent, utilities, etc.)
- How to divide common property if the couple separates
- How to handle any joint debt if the couple separates
- Will there be alimony if the couple separates
A cohabitation agreement can be valid between same-sex or opposite-sex couples and can include whatever the party’s think is necessary to protect their interests. In the event of separation, or even death, a cohabitation agreement will make it easier to divide property and obligations.
How Do Cohabitation Agreements Work?
A cohabitation agreement is a written contract that can provide nonmarried couples similar protections to married couples. It is similar to prenuptial agreements in that is covers the property and obligations each couple had before beginning to cohabitate.
When two people decide to live together, it is natural that they will begin to comingle obligations and finances. This could be a mortgage or lease agreement, utilities, a car payment, or something as simple as groceries. Without being married or having a legal contract in place, neither party’s interests or investments are protected.
Disputes often arise when a couple separates and there is standing lease agreement or outstanding debt that may have been incurred together. A cohabitation agreement can provide provisions to solve these issues before they even arise.
Before legally drafting the agreement, couples should sit down and agree upon what property belongs to each person and how they would like to divide their assets should a breakup occur. It is always good practice to consult a family lawyer when creating these kinds of contracts to ensure that you are both protected and that the contract follows all legal regulations in your state.
For more information on cohabitation agreements, click here.
What’s Included in a Cohabitation Agreement?
One great thing about a cohabitation agreement is that is can be custom tailored to fit the needs of the parties to fully protect them and their property. Below are some examples of provisions and clauses that can be included in a cohabitation agreement.
- Previously Owned Property: Each party should designate what property they brought with them to the relationship. This can include cars, furniture, bank accounts, or even real estate.
- Previously Incurred Debt: The cohabitation agreement should clearly state what kind of debt each party had before moving in together.
- How to Pay Rent/Mortgage: If the couple is going to be cohabitating in a house that one person owns, it should be established whose name is on the deed and who will be responsible for paying the mortgage. If the couple is going to rent, it needs to be decided if both or only one name will go on the lease.
- What Happens to the House/Apartment at Breakup: In the event of a breakup, the couple needs to decide who will continue to live in the house or apartment they are cohabitating in and who will move out. This is fairly easy if only one name is on the deed or lease agreement, but the couple should also establish a timeline to follow if one person must move out.
- Bills, Utilities, Expenses: A cohabitation agreement can include a breakdown of who is responsible for each bill the couple will now incur together. This includes electric, water, cable, groceries, and other joint expenses. If a couple chooses to combine their auto insurance or renter’s insurance that should be addressed as well.
- Children: In some cases, an unmarried couple chooses to live together because they share a child in common. The couple can agree to custody and visitation in their cohabitation agreement in the event they separate. Issues of custody and child support however may not be honored in a cohabitation agreement and may need to be decided separately in court.
- Pets: Disputes over couple’s pets are becoming increasingly popular as more unmarried couples live together without executing a cohabitation agreement. Even though most pet owners consider their furry friends as family, most states consider pets as property. The couple should agree who will keep any pets acquired before and during the relationship in the event of a breakup.
- Property Acquired While Together: A couple will acquire property while together so it should be decided who will get to keep certain property after a separation. Furniture, appliances, joint bank accounts, and even knickknacks, should all be included in a cohabitation agreement.
- Debts Acquired While Together: While living together, a couple may want to make a large purchase like a car. It should be established who will be responsible for this debt if the couple splits.
Like most valid contracts, to be legally binding, a cohabitation agreement needs to include both party’s names and addresses. It needs to be signed by each party and it is a good idea to also have the agreement notarized. Each state handles contracts differently so it is important to follow contract laws in your state to ensure your agreement is legal.
Click here to learn the average cost of hiring a lawyer to draft a contract .
Image via Pexels by Andrea
Who Needs a Cohabitation Agreement?
Not all couples will need a cohabitation agreement and choosing to execute this type of agreement is personal and depends on the relationship. Consider these questions when deciding if you need a cohabitation agreement:
- Are you living with your partner?
- Did either party have a significant amount of property or debt prior to moving in together?
- Do you plan on accumulating a significant amount of property or debt with your partner while living together?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, a cohabitation agreement may be a good option.
Other couples who may want to consider a cohabitation agreement are elderly couples who want to ensure their property is distributed properly upon their death, and couples who want to live together but never plan on getting married.
Are Cohabitation Agreements Legally Binding?
Most states will recognize and uphold a properly executed cohabitation agreement. Whether or not a cohabitation agreement is legally binding will depend on the contract laws in your state and if your agreement abides by those laws.
There are some situations where a cohabitation may not hold up in court like if there are terms in the agreement that are objectively unreasonable or if one party signed under force or duress.
The best way to ensure that your cohabitation agreement is fair, properly executed, and legally binding is to consult with an attorney knowledgeable in contracts or family law. An attorney can assist you with drafting and agreement that meets all the standards and regulations of a valid contract.
Get Help with a Cohabitation Agreement
Do you have questions about a cohabitation agreement and want to speak to an expert? Post a project today on ContractsCounsel and receive bids from family lawyers who specialize in cohabitation agreements.
Meet some of our Cohabitation Agreement Lawyers
Legal services cost too much, and are often of low quality. I have devoted my law practice to providing the best work at the most affordable price—in everything from defending small businesses against patent trolls to advising multinational corporations on regulatory compliance to steering couples through a divorce.
I am a licensed attorney and a member of the California Bar. I graduated from the University of Dayton School of Law's Program in Law and Technology. I love IP, tech transfers, licensing, and how the internet and developing technology is changing the legal landscape. I've interned at both corporations and boutique firms, and I've taken extensive specialized classes in intellectual property and technology law.
Jo Ann J.
Jo Ann has been practicing for over 20 years, working primarily with high growth companies from inception through exit and all points in between. She is skilled in Mergers & Acquisitions, Contractual Agreements (including founders agreements, voting agreements, licensing agreements, terms of service, privacy policies, stockholder agreements, operating agreements, equity incentive plans, employment agreements, vendor agreements and other commercial agreements), Corporate Governance and Due Diligence.
I am an unabashed contract law geek with a passion for delivering contracts that protect your business within your risk tolerance. Contracts should be clear, concise, and able to be understood by the end user. I promote Plain English contract drafting. I also pay close attention to the boilerplate traps that trip up many agreements. Some of my most frequent drafting projects are entity operating and shareholder agreements, bylaws, asset purchase agreements, commercial leases, EULA, Terms of Service, Privacy Policies, Confidentiality agreements, employment agreements, and more.
I hold a B.S. in Accounting and a B.A. in Philosophy from Virginia Tech (2009). I received my J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2012. I am an associate member of the Virginia Bar and an active member of the DC bar. Currently, I am working as a self-employed legal consultant and attorney. Primarily my clients are start-up companies for which I perform various types of legal work, including negotiating and drafting settlement, preparing operating agreements and partnership agreements, assisting in moving companies to incorporate in new states and setting up companies to become registered in a state, assisting with employment matters, drafting non-disclosure agreements, assisting with private placement offerings, and researching issues on intellectual property, local regulations, privacy laws, corporate governance, and many other facets of the law, as the need arises. I have previously practiced as an attorney at a small DC securities law firm and worked at Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLC. My work experience is dynamic and includes many short-term and long term experience that span across areas such as maintaining my own blog, freelance writing, and dog walking. My diverse background has provided me with a stong skill set that can be easily adapted for new areas of work and indicates my ability to quickly learn for a wide array of clients.
Texas licensed attorney specializing for 20 years in Business and Contract law. My services include General Business Law Advisement; Contract Review and Drafting; Legal Research and Writing, including Motion Practice; Business Formation; Article or Instructive Writing; and more. For more insight into my skills and experience, please feel free to visit my LinkedIn profile or contact me with any questions.
Creative, results driven business & technology executive with 24 years of experience (13+ as a business/corporate lawyer). A problem solver with a passion for business, technology, and law. I bring a thorough understanding of the intersection of the law and business needs to any endeavor, having founded multiple startups myself with successful exits. I provide professional business and legal consulting. Throughout my career I've represented a number large corporations (including some of the top Fortune 500 companies) but the vast majority of my clients these days are startups and small businesses. Having represented hundreds of successful crowdfunded startups, I'm one of the most well known attorneys for startups seeking CF funds. My engagements often include legal consultation & advisory roles, drafting of NDAs, TOS & Privacy Policies, contracts and corporate law, business strategy advice & consulting, in-house counsel, Founder & entrepreneur guidance and other roles as needed by my clients. I hold a Juris Doctor degree with a focus on Business/Corporate Law, a Master of Business Administration degree in Entrepreneurship, A Master of Education degree and dual Bachelor of Science degrees. I look forward to working with any parties that have a need for my skill sets.