Legally, cohabitation usually refers to persons living together who are an unmarried couple.

It is usually the case that the partners are not treated as if they were a married couple, even if they have been living together for a long time.

Is Cohabitation Related to Domestic Partnership?

In some cases, cohabitating partners can sometimes be subject to domestic partnership laws. However, cohabitation is not the same thing as a domestic partnership. A couple usually needs to register with the state in order to qualify as a domestic partnership.

How Does Cohabitation Affect a Person’s Property Rights?

In most instances, cohabitation does not affect each person’s property rights. Each partner is usually treated as an individual, meaning that they are not subject to marital property concepts such as community property or shared property. This may change if the couple addresses property rights in a cohabitation agreement.

What Is a Cohabitation Agreement?

Most states require the parties to form a cohabitation agreement if they wish to share the rights to the property that they accumulate during the time that they are living together. Without a cohabitation agreement, the partners usually will not have any property rights in the other partner’s assets. A typical cohabitation agreement may cover:

  • Real property rights
  • Distribution of property upon termination of the cohabitation arrangement or upon the death of one of the partners
  • Support payments

Do Cohabitating Partners Have Rights to Support Payments?

Cohabitating partners are generally not entitled to support payments. Support payments are monetary payments made by one partner to another in the event that a marriage or domestic partnership is terminated. If the couple wishes to have rights to support payments, this must be indicated in the cohabitation agreement.

On the other hand, if the couple is legally registered as a domestic partnership, it might be possible for one of the partners to file for support payments if the cohabitation arrangement is terminated.

Are Unmarried Partners Liable for Each Other’s Debts?

In general, unmarried partners are not responsible for the other partner’s debts, even if they are living together. The state will treat each partner’s debts individually, especially with regard to tax debt or monies owed to the government.

In some states, registered domestic partners may be held liable for debts related to basic living costs, such as food and clothing. However, partners who are simply living together will be held responsible for their own individual debt.

What Happens to the Partner’s Property If One of them Dies?

Without a cohabitation agreement, each partner’s property will be distributed according to the probate laws of the state that they reside in. The surviving partner may not receive any property distributions since probate laws distribute property to surviving family members first. Property distributions can also be addressed in a will.

The only exception may be with regards to joint possession of real property. If the couple had purchased property such as a home as joint tenants, they could each assume the property rights of the other partner if the partner becomes deceased.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Issues with Cohabitation and Property Rights?

A valid cohabitation can provide couples who live together extra rights regarding each other’s assets. A family lawyer can help a couple draft a cohabitation agreement, to ensure that they address property rights. In the event that a lawsuit becomes necessary, a lawyer can help defend the person’s property interests.