Cohabitation and the Law: Tips and Warnings

Many couples live together even though they are not married. Cohabiting couples may share the rent, utilities, food, and other daily expenses. It's important to remember the following tips and warnings before living with your significant other.

This article addresses cohabitation, the law, and what to do if you consider cohabitating with your significant other.

Cohabitation and the Law: What You Should Do

Cohabitation is a common practice among many unmarried couples. Many same-sex couples had to cohabitate before same-sex marriages became legal nationwide.

Consider the following if you are moving in with your partner:

  • Enter into a cohabitation agreement before moving in together. This agreement can set the ground rules for financial and other arrangements. This may prevent a lot of headaches if the relationship doesn't last. A family law attorney can help you craft an appropriate agreement for your cohabitating relationship.
  • Establish arrangements for probate, healthcare, estate planning, social security, and life insurance through a prenuptial agreement if you are contemplating marriage.
  • Hold title to any major purchases for the person paying for them. If you buy a car with your own down payment and make all the monthly payments, the car should be in your name only. Joint purchases should be in the names of both cohabitating partners.
  • Keep most finances separate and bank accounts separate. This will help avoid heated disputes in the event the relationship terminates. Doing this can also help you keep peace of mind.
  • Keep accurate records of your financial contributions to any property your partner holds. This will help establish each of your property rights.
  • Write "gift" or "loan" on checks written to your partner to negate any possible suggestion that you have been supporting them. This issue can arise in a post-break-up "palimony" lawsuit. Palimony is like alimony, where one partner must pay the other partner after breaking up. The only difference is that these ex-partners were never married.
  • Remember that a never-married parent has the same child support obligations as a once-married parent. This means that child custody and support payments will not be affected by cohabitation.

For more information on protecting your rights as a cohabitant, see FindLaw's Cohabitation Agreements page.

Cohabitation: What to Avoid

When you are considering living with your significant other before getting married, you will want to avoid the following:

  • Never commingle (or mix) your money by opening joint accounts, incurring joint debts, or making large joint purchases. This will help if you want to avoid legal complications and the possibility of a palimony suit for the support of your partner after a split.
  • Avoid holding title to major purchases in your partner's name alone if you are both paying for that property. Avoid this even if they orally agree that the real estate or car belongs to both of you. The deed or title is more convincing evidence than one partner's allegation of a spoken promise.
  • Be cautious about co-signing or guaranteeing debts incurred by your partner. This is true unless you intend to be equally responsible for paying them back, even if you split up.
  • Avoid being financially dependent on your partner so that you can support yourself in the future. Divorced spouses may have legal obligations to provide spousal support. This is not true for former cohabitants. Keep up your skills and contacts in the job market, or consider a written agreement. This agreement can establish your partner's legal obligation to help support you if the relationship ends.
  • Avoid holding yourselves out to the public as a married couple or using the same last name, even casually. This will help you avoid the legal complications of a palimony suit. It can also help prevent common-law marriage (in states where it is recognized) issues if the relationship ends.

If you are going to live with your partner, you may want to consider speaking to an attorney if you have any concerns.

Get Legal Help with Cohabitation and the Law

Cohabitation can give rise to certain legal obligations and disputes. This is especially true relating to property ownership. Depending on state laws, cohabitation could also raise questions about common-law marriage.

Before making any decisions, it is helpful to talk to a family law attorney. A family lawyer can provide helpful legal advice about your legal rights. They can help guide you through cohabitation legal issues.

Talk to an experienced family law attorney today.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • You may want to consider creating powers of attorney or prenup agreements
  • Getting an attorney’s advice is a good idea if there are children or substantial property involved
  • An attorney can help you responsibly enter and exit cohabitation

Get tailored advice about property, finances, and child custody when living together. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Living with a partner is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Would you like to add your partner to your will? Also, consider creating a power of attorney so your partner can access your financial accounts and bills. A health care directive is necessary if you want your partner to make your medical decisions if you ever become incapacitated.

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