Cohabitation means that two persons are living together in the same residence.  In most cases, the persons are an unmarried couple.  In some cases, cohabitation may refer to a couple that has registered under the civil union or domestic partnership laws of the state of residence. 

However, in most cases, the simple act of cohabitation does not provide each individual partner with protection regarding their property and assets.  State family and property laws generally treat cohabitating partners as individuals for legal purposes. 

What are Some Tips for Cohabitation?

Perhaps the single most important thing that a couple can do before they begin cohabitation is to sign a cohabitation agreement.  This is basically a contract stating the terms of the cohabitation, as well as the property rights for the individuals in relation to each other.  Without a cohabitation agreement, each partner will be responsible for their own property, money, and debts.

Some “Do’s” for cohabitation include:

  • DO enter into a cohabitation agreement- this will help avoid sticky situations in the future if the living arrangement changes
  • DO keep finances separate and clearly indicate which property belongs to whom
  • DO hold title to major purchases such as a home or a car in the name of the person who is actually making payments for it
  • DO put the names of both parties on the title for major joint properties
  • DO keep records of financial contributions to and from the other party- this will help avoid creating financial dependencies
  • DO understand that a non-married parent may have the same legal obligations as a married parent or a divorced parent (i.e., they may have to pay child support)

There are also some things that you shouldn’t do if you will be entering into a cohabitation arrangement.  Some cohabitation “Don’ts” can include:

  • DON’T incur joint debt or co-sign on your partner’s debts, unless you truly intend to help repay them- otherwise, you will become liable for debt that otherwise isn’t legally yours
  • DON’T hold yourselves out as a married couple- you may become subject to common-law marriage principles in the even that the cohabitation terminates.  Also, you could be held liable for fraud if you indicate that you are married on forms or documents with the intent to deceive
  • DON’T forget to include yourself on the title to major property, if you are contributing to payments- the deed or title is more convincing than the argument that you helped pay for it
  • DON’T place yourself in a position where you become financially dependent on the other person- if you stop living together, you will have no rights to their property or assets
  • DON’T forget that you can write “loan” or “gifts” on checks written to your partner- this will help negate any arguments that you have been supporting him or her

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Cohabitation Arrangement?

Again, the laws governing cohabitation arrangements will vary in each state.  Be sure to check your local laws or consult with a family law attorney if you need help with a cohabitation arrangement.  In many cases, termination of a cohabitation arrangement can lead to a lawsuit, especially if the partners failed to create a cohabitation agreement.  An experienced family lawyer can help defend your interests in court if necessary.