What Is the Purpose of a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is designed to protect unmarried couples when they move in together. With a cohabitation agreement, you and your partner can decide how to handle property, debts, household expenses, and the possibility of a breakup. You can also add special provisions and/or tie other legal documents into your cohabitation agreement, which can help in the event of serious disability or death.

For example, you can use your cohabitation agreement to give your partner permission to access your healthcare information and attach a power of attorney for healthcare to let your partner make medical decisions on your behalf. If you want your partner to inherit your assets, you can include a copy of your will with your cohabitation agreement, as well.

When Should I Consider a Cohabitation Agreement?

Consider a cohabitation agreement if you are moving in with your partner and have special interests you want to protect. Many of our clients draft cohabitation agreements when moving in with a new partner after divorce, and cohabitation agreements can be especially valuable for unmarried couples who purchase property together or life partners who never intend to marry.

What Should I Include in My Cohabitation Agreement?

Include each partner’s earning capacity and financial expectations for the relationship. Depending on your circumstances you can also include answers to the following questions:

  • Whose name is on the deed and who is responsible for paying the mortgage (if one or both partners own property)?
  • Whose name is on the lease and who is responsible for paying the lease (if the couple rents)?
  • Who pays bills, utilities, insurance, and expenses?
  • What property does each partner own upon moving in together?
  • Does either partner have any debts and who is responsible for them?
  • Will one partner support the other financially?
  • What is the plan if you break up?
  • What will happen to the house or rental you are living in?
  • Who will move out?
  • How long does the person who moves out have to do so?
  • What will happen to the debts and personal property you acquire while living together?
  • Will one partner continue supporting the other for some time?
  • Who has permission to access each partner’s medical information?
  • What happens if one partner dies?
  • Where can your attorney find copies of your will, power of attorney, and other important legal documents?

If you and your partner have children (together or from another relationship), you may also want to include some provisions about child custody, support, and visitation.

Keep in mind, however, that the court may not honor these provisions, and the judge will always act in the best interests of the children.

Matters involving married couples and children are decided in family courts, but most cohabitation agreements are treated like any other contract and heard in civil court.

Generally, cohabitation agreements should focus on the financial implications of living and owning property together or sharing debts and assets.

If it helps, you can think about cohabitation agreements as business contracts where the business is running a home together.

Is a Cohabitation Agreement the Same as a Prenuptial Agreement?

No. Cohabitation agreements are for unmarried couples who live together and do not intend to get married. Getting married nullifies a cohabitation agreement and replaces it with a marriage license and an officiated ceremony.

Prenuptial agreements (prenups), on the other hand, are designed to help married couples navigate the possibility of divorce.

Cohabitation agreements and prenuptial agreements are similar, but they are not the same and they apply in different courts and contexts.

How Can I Protect My Rights and Assets While Sharing a Life with Someone Else?

If you are moving in with your partner, consider a cohabitation agreement to protect your rights and assets, and if you are getting married, consider a prenuptial agreement to protect your rights and assets.

Sharing a life with someone else requires trust, and for many couples, creating a legal agreement helps build and preserve trust. It can also create peace of mind if you are moving in with someone or getting married and have significant wealth.

Burch Shepard Family Law Group is here to help couples draft legal contracts that help them share their lives. We can also help couples separate if their relationships do not work out. Together, our attorneys have more than 100 years of legal experience guiding families of all shapes and sizes through complex legal hurdles.

For help drafting a cohabitation agreement, prenup, or any other legal document related to your relationship, please call us at (949) 565-4158 or contact us online.