Living Together: Laws and Rights

Living together can sometimes result in unforeseen legal issues. Some steps may help reduce legal headaches during a breakup.

This section of FindLaw provides valuable information for unmarried couples living together, also called "cohabitation." Click on any of the links below for more information about laws and legal issues related to cohabitation.

This article addresses money, property, lease agreements, and topics related to cohabitating couples. Whether a simple cohabitation agreement is the solution or domestic partnership or common law marriage comes into play, this section has the resources to help you learn more about laws related to living together.

Living Together: The Big Picture

Cohabitating can be a valuable test of a relationship. It can prove whether a marriage is a good idea for the couple. However, this arrangement can also place both people in unique legal situations.

Moving in together doesn't have the same formal legal requirements as marriage. For a wedding, you have to get a marriage license and receive a marriage certificate. Living together is much more relaxed and has fewer legal ramifications. So, if the relationship ends, cohabitating couples may face uncertainty.

This may leave couples in legal limbo about how to divide money and property and how to share children.

Cohabitation and Property

Divorcing spouses are legally obligated to divide their property at the end of their relationship. Cohabitating couples don't have the same legal obligations regarding property division as married couples. Cohabitation law does not provide for the same alimony or financial support that marriage does. However, some couples may enter agreements or contracts specifying otherwise.

If one cohabitating partner dies, there is a question of what happens to their belongings. Generally, jointly owned property will pass to a surviving spouse. This might include a house or a bank account. If the property was solely owned by the partner who died, it may be subject to their will. If they died without a will, it may be subject to the state's intestate laws.

A surviving partner must go through probate court to establish their inheritance rights to the property. To avoid these issues, unmarried couples should create a will. They should add their partner to the will. They should also specify how they want their property distributed after death.

Cohabitation and Kids

Children born during a marriage are presumed to be spouses' children. However, this presumption does not exist for unmarried couples who live together. Cohabitating couples face unique legal challenges related to child custody and support payments.

The father has no legal rights until he establishes paternity. Legal rights include child custody and visitation rights. Fathers can establish parental rights by being on the child's birth certificate, but in many states, fathers must petition a court for parental rights. They may be entitled to or ordered to pay child support.

Also, family relationships can impact cohabiting couples who have children together. For example, grandparents may seek custody or visitation rights. This can further complicate custody issues.

Cohabitation and Insurance

Cohabitating couples can benefit from insurance policies. Keep in mind that all insurance policies offer options for cohabitating partners. These policies might also have very specific eligibility requirements.

Life insurance is one type of policy couples should consider. This can provide a lump sum payment to a designated person after the policyholder's death. Life insurance payments can help pay for funeral costs. They can also provide other financial support to the surviving partner.

Health insurance is another important type of insurance for cohabitating couples. Health insurance can help cover the cost of medical treatment for illness or injury. A partner may include their unmarried partner as a dependent on their policy. This will help provide access to health care to both cohabiting partners.

Cohabitation Agreements

Creating and signing a cohabitation agreement will help avoid many common problems. These contracts are sometimes called "living together contracts." They can determine financial arrangements or clarify property ownership. They can also list each party's rights and responsibilities should cohabitation end.

You may also consider other legal agreements, like the power of attorney or prenuptial agreements. A power of attorney is a legal document. It grants someone the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of another person. Prenuptial agreements can help unmarried couples protect their assets. Prenups can also help clarify financial responsibilities during a marriage breakup. Unmarried couples might also consider estate planning. This will help ensure the surviving partner is included in the will if the other partner dies.

Make sure any agreement you make is in a written agreement. You will also want to make sure it complies with state law.

Get Cohabitation Legal Help Today

An experienced family law attorney can help you. They will help you responsibly enter and exit any situation where you are living together. They can help provide you with valuable legal advice about legal protections.

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