Cohabiting: Is It Right for You and Your Relationship?

by Megan WildFebruary 14, 2018

If you’re in a relationship and cohabiting, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re part of a growing trend where it’s increasingly common to live together without marriage as a goal. However, just over half of cohabiting couples get married. Fifty-four percent of first marriages as of the early 1990s began as cohabitation first. It’s increasingly common to live together before marriage in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, the number of cohabiting couples has risen 132 percent since 1996.

But is cohabitation right for you and for the relationship? Some statistics show that cohabiting couples have a greater divorce risk than married couples. Many observers believe the quality of the relationship is more strained, with more frequent fighting and disagreement.
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Property and Other Rights for Cohabiting Couples

Many couples also neglect to ask what would happen to their property and other rights if they broke up. Both people in a cohabiting relationship need to realize that they have no rights in law like married couples do, even if they’ve lived together for 25 years. There is no common law right to equal division of property.

These property rights can be very important if you break up. Whether you’ve been together for three months or 30 years, dissolution of a relationship can be very painful. The pain can be compounded by realizing you don’t have any rights to a house, the furniture you bought together, or even the books you both enjoyed. Moreover, as women still earn less than men, women might find their financial outlook, lifestyle, and quality of life very negatively affected by break-ups, in addition to the emotional pain.

Cohabiting couples should also realize they don’t have certain relationship rights if they stay together but one becomes incapacitated or dies. Your cohabitating partner will not be treated as next of kin for decisions on an incapacitating illness. They will not have decision-making power on funeral arrangements.

But what if you feel that cohabitating expresses your relationship? You don’t feel the need for a more formal relationship. Well, there are solutions you should know about.

Cohabitation Agreements Can Clarify Many Issues

It’s possible to draw up a legal document called a cohabitation agreement. With a cohabitation agreement, you can decide on property rights, child care and health decisions in writing. These agreements are legally enforceable. They remain after a relationship in case you separate.
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In fact, drawing one up can help clarify some financial arrangements. If you moved into someone’s house, for example, you actually may not know who owns it and what the mortgage and financial condition is. That’s important to know, especially if you have been contributing to the mortgage or other payments, maintenance, or other costs. Those contributions might be a reason to have some rights to the home, but you will not have those rights unless a cohabitation agreement says you do. Your partner and you must come to an agreement, of course.

Here are some common areas that cohabitation agreements cover.

  1. Home Ownership

    If you live in a house with a mortgage, a cohabitation agreement should clarify who owns it. Whose name is on the deed, for example? Are there any liens on the property that mean some other entity might have claims on it? Who has paid the mortgage, in what percentage?

    Are there other fees, such as homeowners’ association dues? How about property taxes? What about maintenance and upkeep? Who has paid these costs? Before buying, you need to figure out the breakdown of monthly payments. After that, you need to decide who reasonably would get the house in case of a separation or what payment the other party should get in exchange for not keeping the house.

  2. Personal Property

    A cohabitation agreement can specify each partner’s right to personal property. Some couples buy personal property in common. If you have, you can specify a 50/50 split. It’s also common, though, for some people to own specific personal property. Cooking equipment or tools, for example, might reasonably be the property of one partner but not the other.

    If you are emotionally attached to some property, like antique furniture you restored, for example, work out an agreement so that you keep it in case of a separation.

  3. Financial Accounts

    A cohabitation agreement should work out rights to financial accounts, including bank accounts, investments and credit. The occasion of the agreement can be an occasion to decide whether to combine these accounts or keep them separate.

    Don’t forget debt. If you partner leaves or dies, for example, would you want to assume their debt? Hammer this out as part of the agreement.

  4. Health and Death Decisions

    Cohabitation agreements can also cover decisions about the health of a seriously ill or incapacitated partner. You can decide who would have medical decision-making power and ability to make decisions over funeral arrangements and deposition of the deceased.

Living together has become very common. However, cohabitating couples need to be aware that they do not have the same legal rights as married couples. A cohabitation agreement is a legal document that lets couples decide on the division of property, financial accounts, and health decisions.

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About The Author
Megan Wild
Megan Wild enjoys finding easy and low-stress ways to improve your home. In her downtime, she enjoys flipping flea market finds, hanging out with her dog, and writing on her home-themed blog, Your Wild Home. She's passionate about sustainability and environmentalism, and you can find her tweeting about both @Megan_Wild.