Like paternity, cohabitation agreements are a non-marital area of family law. Similar to married couples, individuals who are living together in an unmarried relationship run into problems when they separate — problems which involve the division of assets and liabilities, pets, rights to use of property, and support. When a cohabitation agreement does not exist, some couples can amicably separate and move on. For others, separating can lead to a heated and lengthy battle over assets and other issues, which must often be resolved in court. Many cohabitating couples decide to enter into agreements that limit and define their rights and obligations to one another in order to avoid future complications.
Establishing a cohabitation agreement allows a couple to enter into a non-marital agreement that dictates how they will go their separate ways in the event they split up. Cohabitation agreements are suitable for long-term or serious relationships where money and property will be intermingled. While oral agreements can be upheld in court under certain limited circumstances, it is best to have a cohabitation agreement in writing. These agreements can be comprehensive and address issues such as estate planning, property purchased during the relationship, and inheritances.
In the absence of an agreement, negotiation is always an option superior to litigation, but after a relationship has ended, it is difficult to find a timely resolution. Although “palimony” is very difficult to obtain, doctrines of implied partnership, constructive trust, and unjust enrichment sometimes come into play. Seeking legal guidance when creating a cohabitation agreement is essential, especially for couples with high-net worth.