Are you living with someone but not married? Cohabitation covers a wide range of situations, but the basic scenario is two people who are not married to each other living together. If you want to live with your significant other, or even a platonic roommate, and have clear expectations, boundaries and consequences, you need to discuss those things in advance and reach an agreement. In the legal realm, the document to encompass this situation is a cohabitation agreement.
Many questions may arise out of cohabitation, for example: How will you handle your finances (from paying monthly bills to putting aside savings)? How will assets be handled? (If you buy things together, who pays for them and how? Who gets to use them? When? How? Who pays for repairs?) With real estate, are you buying a house together? Does one of you own the house in which you’re both living? Are you both responsible for rent if you’re living in a leased space? Are you included in each other’s estate plans? How about life insurance? What happens if your relationship changes or ends? If you have children together, how will you raise them? This might seem like a lot, but this list barely scratches the surface of the possibilities that could arise in a cohabitation situation.
Our legal system treats unmarried couples (opposite sex or same sex) as business partners instead of intimate partners for most purposes. By entering into a cohabitation agreement, unmarried people establish their agreed-upon guidelines for how their relationship will work. This can include provisions for how decisions will be made in the event the cohabitation or relationship ends. Having clear expectations in a well-drafted document at the beginning of cohabitation may minimize conflicts that arise during the relationship. If conflicts do arise, they may be easier to resolve by having the agreement in place.
Cohabitation agreements can be as creative and inclusive as you both want. You can jointly determine the rules and guidelines and what will happen if you reach a point where you can’t resolve your conflict. It doesn’t matter if anyone else would use the same rules or guidelines because they apply only to you. You can address all of the possible scenarios that come to mind, or you can address only the immediate issues that you’re facing when you start to live together. You can also decide in your cohabitation agreement what process you’ll use to end your relationship if you decide it’s not working. You can specify that you’ll use alternative dispute resolution methods, such as the collaborative law process or mediation to reach a resolution, so you can avoid the court system.
If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss cohabitation agreements or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.