In today’s society, many couples choose to live together (“cohabit”) without marrying for a variety reasons. Some people cohabitate based on the mistaken presumption that doing so will spare them from the much-dreaded complications of a divorce. Yet significant legal entanglements may result from “just” living together. Cohabitating couples who decide to part ways often encounter issues and conflicts regarding:
Similar to prenuptial agreements made prior to a marriage and settlement agreements reached during a divorce, a Cohabitation Agreement is a written legal agreement reached between a couple who have chosen to live together but are not legally married.
A Cohabitation Agreement provides a way for a couple who want to live together the ability to protect themselves from future unnecessary cost and litigation should their cohabitation end. Such an agreement allows for the parties to clearly delineate and safeguard their individual property and other rights and determine in advance the division of specific assets.
Title to and division of property
Difficulties can arise if a property is purchased during a relationship and titled into the names of both parties. A similarly difficult issue can arise if a rental lease is taken out in both names – which party will have to leave the apartment or rented house?
Joint and individual debts
This category is actually geared towards aiding the custodial parent. This remedy gives the court the authority to assess economic sanctions or monetary fines upon a parent who fails to take advantage of their scheduled parenting time, thus forcing the other parent to stay home with the child or make alternate plans (such as getting a babysitter). The economic sanctions are typically proportionate to the expenses resulting from the parent’s failure to appear for parenting time such as child care expenses (e.g., babysitter, loss of non-refundable plane tickets).
Joint banking accounts
How will any joint bank accounts be divided? Will you keep track of how much each party puts into the account and divide it that way?
Loans made between the parties
Will any loans made between the parties survive the relationship (i.e., will one party be able to sue the other if a loan remains outstanding when the relationship ends?)
Gifts made between the parties
Are gifts subject to be returned if the relationship ends? Will each party be able to keep any gifts provided to the other during the relationship?
Joint and separate business interests
If you and your significant other own a business together, it is prudent to decide ahead of time what will happen if the relationship ends. Will the business be sold? Will one party be obligated to “buy out” the other party’s interest in the property? Can one party sell their interest in the business to a third party without consent of the other party?
Please see our page on Palimony to determine whether you are making yourself vulnerable to a Palimony claim by entering into a cohabitation agreement.
Custody and child support when children are involved
Who will be the custodial parent of the children? What parenting time/visitation schedule will the non-custodial parent have? How much should the non-custodial parent pay in child support?
Life insurance, health proxies, and testamentary rights and claims
During a relationship, it is common for parties to plan ahead and take out life insurance policies and wills in case one party predeceases the other. What happens if the relationship ends and your former significant other is still the beneficiary of your life insurance policies or will upon your death?
Custody of pets, especially those purchased during the relationship, has become a significant issue in relationships that fail as both parties usually have an attachment to the pet.
These are only a few examples of many disputes that may arise when unmarried, cohabitating couples split up. So whether you are planning to or are currently living with your partner, how can you help protect yourself? The answer is with a “Cohabitation Agreement.”
There is no direct law in New Jersey in connection with legal rights and duties resulting from cohabitation; there is only general contract law on this issue. So-called “common law” marriages are not recognized in New Jersey and unmarried couples living together do not have a recognized or protected legal status under the law. Cohabitation Agreements are legally binding contracts that help unmarried couples living together avoid costly legal battles by determining in advance the legal, economic, and other aspects of their relationship upon separating.
We highly recommend that all unmarried couples living together consider a Cohabitation Agreement. In helping to provide for the future, such agreements give unmarried couples living together peace of mind.
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