Cohabitation Agreement

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A cohabitation agreement memorializes the promises made between unmarried partners before they move in together. This legal document accordingly expresses the partners’ duties while the relationship exists and explains what will happen if the partnership ends. Create your cohabitation agreement template on Lawrina and download a complete PDF document in a flash.

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Woman and man sitting on armchairs and working on laptops; a cat and a dog are lying between them; paper titled "Cohabitation Agreement"

You should take the time to understand what a cohabitation agreement is and how the legal document can benefit the relationship. If you are considering certain living arrangements, know the particulars of cohabitation agreements, how these contracts work, why they are important, and how they can protect your rights and future interests. Drafting these legal contracts using customizable cohabitation agreement templates can save time and money.

What Is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement memorializes the promises made between unmarried partners before they move in together. The legal document accordingly expresses the partners’ duties while the relationship exists and explains what will happen if the partnership ends. Household finances, property ownership, and post-breakup support are a few topics included in the agreement. Cohabiting partners also add provisions in the agreement for resolving disputes and conveying property to surviving partners upon the death of one partner.

Lawrina’s sample cohabitation agreement is available to examine before you begin drafting your contract. Note that each cohabitation agreement will be different, as the parties memorialize the specific details of their agreement.

Parties of the Cohabitation Agreement

The individuals who are planning to live together (or are living together) and willfully agree to enter into a legally binding contract are the named parties in a cohabitation agreement. Executing a cohabitation agreement document usually requires the following four participants:

  1. Two cohabitants — These are individuals who are in a committed relationship and have chosen to remain unmarried but live together in a domestic partnership. To prevent future misunderstandings and potential disputes, parties named in the cohabitation agreement must clearly understand their roles and responsibilities before signing the document.

  2. Witnesses — Witnesses to a cohabitation agreement offer objectivity and detachment to the contract. They are typically individuals who (i) are not directly involved in the relationship, (ii) affirm that the agreement was executed freely and voluntarily by both parties, and (iii) can later testify to the validity of the contract. Witness testimony is also mandatory in every US state that recognizes cohabitation agreements.

Key Terms

Cohabitation agreements cover various aspects of building a life together without getting married. As such, templates for drafting these agreements will include the following key terms:

  1. Property ownership — specifies how the partners will own property (separate or shared) and outlines the process for dividing property in the event of a breakup or the death of one of the partners.

  2. Financial support — details how the partners will share household expenses, designating which partner is expected to make the most monetary contributions during the relationship.

  3. Debt liability — outlines how the partners will divide debts incurred during the partnership and in the event of separation.

  4. Domestic duties — affirms each partner’s responsibilities for housekeeping and homemaking tasks.

  5. Pets — outlines which partner will take custody or care for the couple’s domestic animals in case of a separation or breakup.

  6. Dispute resolution — memorializes how the cohabitants will handle agreement disputes if and when they arise.

  7. End-of-relationship arrangements — indicates the process for terminating the cohabitation agreement and the division of property if the relationship ends.

  8. Inheritance — specifies how to handle probate matters upon the death of a partner.

  9. Child custody and visitation — describes child custody, visitation, and support payments when applicable.

  10. Termination clause — specifies the grounds for which the cohabitation agreement can self-terminate or the steps one party can take to rescind it.

Another option is to customize a simple common law agreement to meet the unique needs of the relationship using the tools offered by reputable providers. However, a customizable cohabitation agreement template will generally provide more appropriate terms and language for the couple’s needs.

What Is the Difference Between Cohabitation and Marriage?

The main difference between cohabitation and marriage lies in their legal acknowledgments and formalities as follows: 

Marriage

Marriage between two parties requires a marriage license and ceremony to make the partnership legal in most states. State statutes frequently confer rights upon married couples regarding inheritance, taxes, and divorce entitlements. 

Cohabitation

Cohabitation arrangements allow two individuals to become partners without traditional marriage formalities. Though the couple disregards many family law protections and duties, cohabitating partners can secure and even customize their rights by executing a valid cohabitation agreement. 

Furthermore, cohabitation agreement templates allow unmarried couples to customize which family rights and responsibilities will apply to them. Their legally binding contract will specifically address the unique circumstances of their relationship. Thus, cohabitation agreements can offer the same or similar comprehensive legal protections found in marriage laws.

What Are the Benefits of a Cohabitation Agreement?

Customized cohabitation agreements should satisfy the specific financial needs and living circumstances of the contracted parties and offer the same post-relationship legal remedies that married couples enjoy. These simple living together agreements also expressly state what will happen in case of a breakup by addressing property, debt, and financial support matters to avoid future conflicts.

Cohabitation agreements are equally beneficial in situations involving co-owned property acquired during cohabitation. In such cases, the cohabiting couple can write into the contract how they will divide shared assets, protecting each party’s interests and the interests of their heirs and designated beneficiaries.

Consequences of Not Using a Cohabitation Agreement

Partners who do not have a cohabitation agreement may have to resolve their family disputes in court if the relationship terminates. Without protections from a cohabitation agreement, there is often no evidence to show that a party made express promises regarding property ownership, finances, and debts before moving in with the other party. Such difficulties often mean long and expensive legal battles, putting the partners at the mercy of state community property laws to resolve their disputes.

A cohabitation agreement template allows the parties to create a legal document with terms that protect both parties in the event of a separation. Additionally, either partner can admit the executed contract into evidence if the other partner files a lawsuit after the relationship ends.

What Your Cohabitation Agreement Should Include

Well-crafted cohabitation agreement templates include the following legal terms and covenants for the parties to modify according to their unique circumstances and needs:

  • Party information — Record each partner’s personal information (full names and addresses). This section of the cohabitation agreement ensures that the people who sign the contract are the named parties to the contract who have established their agreements.

  • Description and purpose — Express that the couple willfully chooses to create the agreement, and affirm that the parties mutually understand their rights and legal duties as expressed in the terms of the agreement.

  • The circumstances — Declare that the partners will live together, and explain what gave rise to the parties’ desire to form the cohabitation agreement. Also, define the relationship’s evolution, pre-owned assets, or other relevant pre-cohabitation issues.

  • The date — Declare the effective date of the cohabitation agreement, which offers a reference point when later examining, modifying, or enforcing the contract.

  • The disclosure — Offer a complete and honest disclosure of property, debts, and finances in this section of the cohabitation agreement to facilitate transparency should real property or assets need to be divided in the future.

  • Legal representation — Affirm whether each party sought independent legal advice during the drafting and execution of the agreement. Also, declare that the parties held the requisite competency to execute the contract, which supports the enforceability of the cohabitation agreement against potential undue influence or capacity claims.

  • Property — Identify and list the assets owned by each party named in the cohabitation agreement, explaining how the couple will divide or retain said property in the event of contract termination or the death of a partner.

  • Debt — Affirm whether the partners will pay debt obligations incurred during the relationship jointly or separately. This section can also express how the couple will resolve debt disputes when they arise.

  • Children — If there are or may be children in the relationship, address child care and support matters, including post-breakup custody arrangements, visitation, and financial support matters. Most cohabitation agreement templates include comprehensive legal protections in this section to ensure that the terms will comply with state law.

  • Support — If applicable, explain which partner will pay financial support (and how much) after a breakup. Also show how support will be calculated and how long the supporting party will need to pay the other. Couples can customize this section of the cohabitation agreement and substitute state alimony rules with comprehensive terms that expressly protect their financial interests.

  • Other items — Additional sections commonly found in cohabitation agreements include:

    • Termination clause
    • Insurance provisions
    • Dispute resolution
    • Confidentiality clause
    • Governing law
    • Amendment and waiver
    • Severability
    • Entire agreement language

Remember that you may adapt any of the above sections using a downloadable cohabitation agreement template to address the couple’s unique needs.

How To Draw Up a Cohabitation Agreement

An experienced contract lawyer may be able to draft your cohabitation agreement, or you can create your contract using an online template. Retaining lawyer services may help to ensure that your arrangement will comply with your state’s family law. Attorneys can also confirm whether an agreement conflicts with the hereditary rights of either partner’s heirs. However, hiring a lawyer can be time-consuming and costly.

Lawrina’s cohabitation agreement template can help you save time by streamlining the drafting process. Cohabitation template examples are attorney-approved legal documents available to review, which address key terms like child or partner support, custody, property division, and more. Couples can customize the template to meet their unique needs without compromising quality. Combining a lawyer’s expertise with online legal template technology helps to produce comprehensive and effective cohabitation agreements that the court can enforce.

When To Use a Cohabitation Agreement

Partners who want to live together without getting married may want to draft a comprehensive cohabitation agreement before moving in together to prevent potential post-breakup disputes. The contract explains and memorializes each party’s rights and responsibilities and will serve as a quick reference to resolve conflicts as they arise.

Common Use Cases

Some people prefer to maintain financial independence and, therefore, choose to protect their property before moving in with a partner. Cohabitation agreement forms help couples memorialize their pre-tenancy promises so there will be minimal confusion about what’s expected during and after the relationship.

The document states whether the partners will co-own property, share household expenses, or pay bills separately. Additionally, cohabitation agreements are especially beneficial for partners who own valuable real property or significant cash assets acquired before the relationship. Some partners wish to protect these assets from becoming the property of their cohabiting partner in the event of separation or death. 

When Not To Use the Cohabitation Agreement

Couples who plan to live together temporarily or decide not to share property and expenses during cohabitation usually will not draft a cohabitation agreement before moving in together. Additionally, the duties and protections in family law already cover legally married couples and people in common-law marriages. Thus, couples who fall into these categories may not need a separate cohabitation agreement to protect their interests.

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Please note that Lawrina does not provide any legal services. The information on Lawrina’s Site and its downloadable content, including legal articles and templates, shall not be considered legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete, and up-to-date. If you require legal advice on your issue, we recommend you contact a qualified attorney licensed in your state. You personally assume full responsibility for any consequences, damages, and costs associated with your use of any content of Lawrina Services available on Lawrina’s Site. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How are assets distributed once a cohabitation agreement is terminated?

The terms of a cohabitation agreement will dictate how to distribute the assets acquired during (and sometimes before) the relationship. The agreed division takes effect immediately after one party terminates the cohabitation according to the termination section in the agreement. Joint assets affected by the distribution of assets clauses would include co-owned personal property, bank accounts, debts, and real estate. The agreement also defines how much of a share each cohabitant will receive. Without legally binding asset distribution language in the cohabitation agreement, state law compels the court to divide a couple’s property according to family law standards, which often call for an equitable division between the parties.

How can I terminate a cohabitation agreement?

You must review the language in the termination section of your cohabitation agreement to learn how to end your relationship. The termination clause will explain how to proceed with the separation and void your contract. Most covenants require the rescinding party to provide written notice to the other partner. A cohabitation agreement template can help you to write comprehensive termination clauses that the court can enforce. However, having a lawyer sign off on the language can help to better ensure that it’s legally binding in your state.

Does each person need independent legal advice before signing a cohabitation agreement?

Getting expert legal advice before executing a cohabitation agreement may be beneficial. The parties should understand what they’re getting into before signing long-term, binding contracts, including cohabitation agreements. Each cohabiting partner may also want to retain a separate family lawyer to avoid conflicts of interest and possible undue influence claims by third parties later. An attorney can further guide clients during the contract drafting process and clarify the meaning of complex terminology found in most cohabitation agreements. Lawyers also assess whether your legal document is fair, which can help in making informed decisions and protecting future interests more effectively.

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