Cohabitation is when a couple decides to live together without any formal marital relationship. Being in cohabitation does not automatically render legal rights for either party. The couple must enter into an arrangement or formulate a contract to obtain any rights from the relationship. These rights generally include property distribution, financial support, and inheritance rights. The agreement or contracts are meant to provide some clarity for the couple in case a dispute arises.
Since cohabitation is not a marriage, the states do not treat it as such. For instance, state courts have declined to enforce some provisions of cohabitation agreements. This depends on each case, but generally, if a term does not comply with the local regulations regarding cohabitation, it will not be upheld. States recognize that there is a major difference between cohabitation and marriage.
There is still a wide range of views regarding cohabitation and how relationships should be handled. States want to hold up the importance of freedom to contract. This means respecting the rule that individuals are allowed to contract on their terms as long as it meets the law.
Recently, cohabitation has increased among couples, and it has forced the law to accommodate these changing circumstances. Although there is a debate regarding this situation, there are rights available for each party in this type of relationship.
Are Cohabitors Treated Like Spouses?
Generally, cohabitors do not enter into contracts regarding their living arrangements. Unless a dispute arises, the couple finds themselves in a difficult situation. Once the couple does decide to split, then there is an array of issues that come up. Since there was not an agreement set aside before the relationship began, tension is formed when dealing with any legal issue.
Moreover, if the couple has children from their cohabitation relationship, setting a clear path on how the child-related issues will be handled becomes challenging. Absent a contract, it becomes hard to enforce any right or obligation. This creates another load of problems that cause you to lose some basic legal protections. It is a known fact that state family codes speak at length about married couples’ rights and obligations during marriage, divorce, and in death, but they are almost universally silent about cohabitants.
However, one exception is Washington State. In Washington, you are mandated to meet certain requirements once you terminate your cohabitation. It is important to note that courts do not favor dealing with cohabitation as they do with marriage regulations. One of the main reasons for this is that states have still not concurred to treat cohabitation as equal to marriage.
Furthermore, many issues arise when dealing with property distribution. There is uncertainty regarding who can own and keep the property after cohabitation. In many cases, courts are unwilling to apply the marital dissolution standards to cohabitation. It is challenging to create systems that utilize the same standards as a marriage when the basis of the relationship is completely separate.
Therefore, states maintain a clear line between marriage and cohabitation. This allows for some separation for couples that are in a marital relationship. Cohabitation does not come with the attached benefits and rights of marriage. The cohabitation couple is not treated like a married couple. Due to this, the cohabitants may be unable to reap the benefits of the family relationships that come with it—for instance, pursuing any wrongful death action or loss of consortium.
Additionally, cohabitants can rarely ever receive private insurance survivors’ benefits or unemployment benefits related to a relocating partner. Notably, most health insurance companies are legally permitted to allow or disallow insuring a cohabiting partner as part of an employer-provided health insurance benefit.
Lastly, remember that federal agencies may only provide certain benefits to married couples. For instance, the Social Security survivors’ benefits are only to formally married spouses and not to cohabitants. This further applies to state employees.
What are the Cohabitation Agreements?
According to the Illinois Bar, Cohabitation without marriage has become increasingly popular in the United States. Many of the regulations regarding cohabitation are still developing, and courts do not want to use marriage regulations to govern cohabitation relationships. Cohabitant couples want to create an agreement to establish some rights and obligations for their relationship.
Furthermore, these agreements are meant to clarify the issues that may arise after the cohabitation relationship ends, such as issues dealing with children, property, financial support, visiting arrangements, etc. However, not all states want to support cohabitation or enforce cohabitation agreements. Therefore, it becomes challenging for couples seeking protection in their relationships.
Most states want to support marriage because it encourages procreation. For instance, the passage of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (“Civil Union Act”) questioned this policy. Most critics argue that the law needs to accommodate the societal changes and demands in the state. Failure to do this can cause more tension and confusion for families trying to obtain the rights of their relationships.
Additionally, a cohabitation agreement is a form of legal agreement reached between a couple who have chosen to live together (whether they are heterosexual or homosexual). These sorts of couples can apply some of the benefits to their marriage as a marriage regarding mortgage or child support. However, they are treated separately in some other areas, such as property rights, pensions, and inheritance.
A cohabitation agreement consists of documentation for couples who want to reside together to shield themselves from unnecessary costs and litigation if their cohabitation breaks down. Through these agreements, the couple can set some standards for property division, dealing with debt, and who obtains custody of the children.
Moreover, the agreement also functions like a prenuptial agreement. Because the individuals can decide in advance how the property will be dealt with in terms of who gets to keep certain assets, remember that this agreement is intended to bind both parties.
Lastly, these agreements can provide the members of a relationship the peace of mind that their financial commitments to each other will be enforceable. Moreover, the property acquired or improved during the relationship will be distributed equally. Without an agreement, things can get complicated and require additional time to settle all the matters once the relationship ends.
Cohabitation agreements are important because they provide a structure for you to handle the matters once the relationship terminates. Predicting relationships is tough, but planning for legal rights in any relationship is an important investment.
When Do I Need To Contact a Lawyer?
Depending on your state, cohabitation agreements may or may not be enforced. You must seek a local family lawyer in your area to assist you if you are currently cohabiting. They can advise on the type of agreement that best suits your situation. Plan and ensure that your rights are protected in case the relationship ends.
Cohabitation laws can be complex, but your attorney can provide you with the legal information and advice that applies to your particular case. They can guide you from start to finish throughout the entire legal process to ensure that your rights are protected. Lastly, if there are any changes to the family laws in your area, your attorney can keep you updated so you know what steps to take next for your case.