A contract is a legally-binding document between parties outlining what they are obligated to do and what they are entitled to receive in a specific situation. In a romantic relationship, couples can choose to make a contract outlining specific terms of their relationship and define ownership of any potentially shared property. For example, these terms may include what will happen to shared property such as a house in the event that the couple breaks up or during the relationship.

What Is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement, also referred to as a “living together” contract, is a contract between two individuals who are not married. However, they are romantically involved and living together. This type of agreement can outline each person’s rights and obligations for issues such as:

  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Financial support during and after the relationship
  • Distribution of property after a breakup
  • Any joint bank account agreements
  • Payment of debts during and after the relationship

What Is a Premarital Agreement?

A premarital agreement, also known as a prenuptial agreement or a prenup, is a written contract between two individuals who are planning to marry each other. The prenup clearly defines terms such as:

  • Child custody
  • Assets
  • Debts
  • Classifies community property acquired during the marriage

A prenup makes it easier for to determine what happens if the marriage ends.

Should I Enter into a Cohabitation Agreement instead of a Premarital Agreement?

If a couple is only living together with no intention of getting married, they can only enter into a cohabitation agreement. However, if the couple is planning on getting married soon, such as if they are engaged or are planning their wedding, then they can enter into a prenuptial agreement. A couple who is planning on getting married can still enter into a cohabitation agreement to cover time leading up to the wedding if the wedding is long time away, as people do not generally sign a prenup until shortly before the wedding.

Are There Any Other Differences between the Two Contracts?

Yes. A cohabitation agreement is usually more flexible than a prenup. Also, a cohabitation agreement may not be legally-binding in all jurisdictions, whereas a valid prenuptial agreement is recognized in every state. In the jurisdictions that recognize cohabitation agreements, the contract must be written and cannot be oral.

Can a Cohabitation Agreement Override a Prenuptial Agreement?

No. Once a couple marries, the prenuptial agreement overrides any preexisting cohabitation agreement that the couple may have had before getting married. 

Should I Talk to an Attorney about Cohabitation and Prenuptial Agreements?

Yes, it is in your best interest to contact a family law attorney regarding any contract involving a romantic relationship. Both types of contract are different and used for different purposes. An attorney can help you figure out whether you need a cohabitation agreement or a prenuptial agreement to meet your needs.