Family Law

Cohabitation Statistics and Trends Today

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
More unmarried couples are living together than ever before.

What Is Cohabitation?

Cohabitation is more than a short-term relationship. Cohabiting refers to romantic partners that have chosen to live together, but not marry. These couples are generally in committed, long-term relationships and they may have children together.

Cohabitation alone doesn't necessarily confer any legal rights, but in some states, like California, if there was an implied or written contract between the partners about how they would share finances, support, and/or property in the event of a break up, a court may be able to issue orders for "palimony" (similar to alimony but between unmarried partners) and property. A judge may evaluate the following factors to make these decisions:

  • the length of the relationship
  • the couple’s household arrangements
  • reasons why the couple was living together
  • the amount of shared resources and finances
  • how the couple paid living expenses
  • whether the couple purchased any property together, and
  • any documents or other evidence showing that one partner provided financial support to the other and intended to continue to do so even after a break up.

Cohabitation Statistics

It comes as no surprise that today more couples are living together on a long-term basis. Some of these couples have children together, while some do not. Some have plans to marry, while others simply plan to live together indefinitely. Whatever various reasons these couples have for living together, they are on the rise.

According to a Pew Research survey, approximately 25 percent of adults 25 and old have never been married. Compare this number to 1960 when only 9 percent of adults over 25 had never been married. There’s also been a major uptick in children born to cohabitating couples. Approximately one-quarter of all births to women between 25 and 44 in the past 5 years were to unmarried, cohabitating couples according to a Wall Street Journal report. This rate has doubled from the previous decade. What this means is that many of these couples share property, assets, or children and yet they aren’t protected by by traditional marriage and divorce laws, rights, and responsibilities.

How Does Cohabitation Affect My Legal Rights?

If you’re living together with your significant other, a breakup can impact nearly every aspect of your life. The more intertwined your finances, property ownership, and relationships are, the more difficult it will be to separate yourself.

Cohabiting couples don’t enjoy the same inheritance rights, property rights, or financial protections that married people receive. There are exceptions if you and your partner live in a state that recognizes common law marriages and you qualify under your state’s laws. However, in most situations where a cohabiting couple splits, property that you’ve kept separate is your own. If you’ve deliberately joined your savings, home, or other assets with your partner, you may need to go to court to receive your fair share.

Additionally, cohabiting couples that have children together should consider entering into a paternity agreement to avoid custody battles later on. When a couple is married, any children that are born during the marriage are presumed to be the children of the married parents. Cohabiting fathers don’t enjoy the same legal protections as married fathers, but a paternity acknowledgement can help.

Cohabitation Agreements

Some couples enter into cohabitation agreements before deciding to share assets or purchasing an expensive piece of property. A cohabitation agreement is a contract entered into by a cohabiting couple at any point during their relationship. These types of agreements can define property ownership and how each partner contributes to living expenses. Cohabitation agreements can help couples avoid legal battles down the road in the event they break up or later marry and divorce.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • My partner and I started out as roommates, but later became romantically involved. Does it matter when our cohabiting relationship began when it comes to dividing assets?
  • I’ve been living with my boyfriend for the last six years and we plan to get married soon. Will our time cohabiting affect my rights if we ever divorce?
  • I’m in a long-term cohabiting relationship and trust my partner. Is there any reason to consider a cohabitation agreement?
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