Living Together Overview

Marriages are entered into through a process created by state law. Marriage has particular requirements and may cost money. Cohabitation has no particular requirements. Couples can start or end cohabitation at any time.

The decision to move in together should not be taken lightly. Many unmarried people live together for a variety of reasons. Unmarried couples may live together to raise kids. A young couple might save money on rent by moving in together before marriage. Legal complications with money, property, and leases can arise if the relationship goes south.

Even if things go well, there are issues that can crop up. Either way, you'll be well served by learning the legal basics of living together.

Below, you can find an array of resources related to cohabitation.

Marriage vs. Cohabitation

Not all couples wish to marry. Some would prefer to simply live together. Couples who make this decision should know the benefits and drawbacks of cohabitation vs. marriage.

Divorcing couples must divide their property according to rules set out by the law. Ex-partners may require financial support from the wealthier spouse. Splitting cohabiting couples can divide their property in whichever way they wish. But the lack of legal guidelines can lead to conflict and unfair results.

Spouses can make important health decisions and have the right to inherit property. Cohabiters have no rights without a document granting power of attorney. They will not inherit property unless specified in the deceased's will.

Children born to married couples have their parentage presumed. The law directs the support of children before and after a divorce. In contrast, children born to cohabiting couples do not have paternity presumed. Without establishing paternity, there are no legal obligations for support.

Cohabitation Do's and Don'ts

Unmarried couples living together face different issues from married couples. Unmarried couples do not have the legal protections of marriage. They must make careful decisions about cohabitation to prevent troublesome concerns.

Unmarried partners should consider some of the following before moving in together:

  • Create a domestic partnership or cohabitation agreement that outlines the rights and responsibilities of each party. Include provisions about property ownership, joint accounts, estate planning, insurance policies, and healthcare.
  • Consider estate planning and probate issues. These may include property rights and social security benefits for surviving partners.
  • Consider health insurance for domestic partners if available through your employer.
  • Keep titles and finances separate. Keep accurate records of the parties' contributions to each other's property. For instance, label gifts or loans as such.
  • Don't mix assets like a joint bank account or credit card. This can create potential liabilities and legal issues if the relationship ends.
  • Don't assume that a long-term relationship automatically creates a common-law marriage. Common-law marriage is only recognized in certain states. It must meet specific legal requirements.
  • Don't hold yourselves out to the public as married.
  • Don't become financially dependent on your cohabitant.

Cohabitating couples should be aware of the legal implications of their living situation. They should take steps to protect their rights and interests. It can be helpful to consult with a family law attorney to understand the specific laws of your state. They can also help you understand how these laws apply to your situation.

Living Together With Children Without Marriage

There are additional considerations for cohabitating couples with children together. Cohabitating couples with children together may face a variety of concerns. These concerns might involve child custody, child support, alimony, and domestic partnership rights. Without a legal marriage, it can be more difficult to establish rights and responsibilities in these areas.

Unmarried partners should consider creating a parenting plan. They should discuss how to handle financial support and alimony if they separate. Domestic partnership agreements can also help establish legal rights and obligations. Cohabiting couples may find it beneficial to consult with a family law attorney to understand their legal options.

Get Legal Help Before Moving in Together

Cohabitating couples should consider speaking to a family law professional. Family law attorneys can help give you valuable legal advice. They will help protect your legal rights. They can help you create a living together contract or prenuptial agreement for your situation. A family law attorney will assist you in navigating your state laws.

Talk to a family law attorney about your cohabitating legal issues 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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