Cohabitation Agreements

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What is Cohabitation?

Cohabitation refers to the situation where one person lives with another. In the context of marriage or divorce, cohabitation can mean residing with a person with whom you are romantically involved, but is not your spouse.

Unmarried cohabitants generally are not bound by marriage or divorce laws. This can be either beneficial or detrimental for the cohabitants. On the one hand, the cohabitants will not be eligible for protections or benefits that married couples may enjoy. On the other hand, cohabitants can often define the bounds of their relationship without being subject to restrictive marriage laws, especially with regards to property. Many states recognize cohabitation agreements.  

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is basically a contract between two cohabitants. The agreement provides rights to both parties similar to those rights available to married couples. These agreements almost always cover financial arrangements and issues with property such as acquisition and distribution of assets. 

Like any contract, cohabitation agreements can be tailored to suit the needs of each individual party. They can cover a wide range of issues, such as housing arrangements, business matters, and personal affairs.  In fact, many family law attorneys encourage cohabitants to draft a written cohabitation agreement. The agreements are very helpful when it comes to avoiding future legal disputes.

In general it is best if the cohabitation agreement fills in any gaps in the laws of your state. For example, many state laws do not address issues such as the rights of children of unmarried couples or the distribution of property upon death of a cohabitant. Thus you may wish to include such provisions in your agreement so that you are protected.  

Are Cohabitation Agreements Enforceable?

Most states recognize cohabitation agreements and treat them as if they were ordinary contracts. This means that the agreement is legally binding and imposes a legal duty on each party to adhere to the terms of the agreement. Violations of cohabitation agreements can result in damages or other legal consequences.

Many states require the cohabitation agreement to be in writing in order to be enforceable. A very small handful of states do not recognize cohabitation agreements at all. Also, cohabitation agreements are unenforceable if they involve the provision of sexual favors or services. They will also be deemed enforceable if they cover subject matter that is illegal.    

Do I Need an Experienced Lawyer for Cohabitation Agreements?

Cohabitation agreements may be necessary in order to protect the rights of the parties involve. It is generally best if an attorney drafts and reviews the cohabitation agreement, since it is basically a contract. Also, if the cohabitation agreement has been violated, a family lawyer can assist with recovering damages for the breach. Laws regulating cohabitation agreements can vary from state to state, so you should inquire with a lawyer to determine how your state enforces the agreement. 

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Last Modified: 09-12-2011 02:26 PM PDT

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