Family Law

Do You Need a Lawyer to Write a Cohabitation Agreement?

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
For some, it's important to ask a professional for help with a living together agreement.

Today, more couples are cohabiting (living together) before marriage than ever before. Many couples that live together, enter into cohabitation agreements for the same reasons that engaged couples use prenups—financial planning and security.

Cohabitation agreements can protect each partner’s separate property and help couples avoid many of the financial difficulties that come with breaking up. Since your cohabitation agreement will cover issues that are important to your financial future, you may want to hire an attorney. Find out when you need a professional to draft your cohabitation agreement and when you don’t.

What Is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a contract that identifies each partner's rights to property, investments, and income during the relationship and in the event of a break up. Because the laws that protect married couples don’t necessarily apply to cohabiting partners, this type of an agreement offers unmarried couples a method of structuring and protecting finances.

What Issues Should a Cohabitation Agreement Cover?

Cohabitation agreements can define who's responsible for household expenses and detail property ownership—both during a relationship and in the event of a breakup. For example, your living together contract might state who assumes responsibility for rent, utilities, food, vehicle loans, and other basic household expenses.

Additionally, a comprehensive agreement should address either partner’s ownership interests, such as contributions to a business or a down payment on a home. A cohabitation agreement that clearly spells out each partner’s ownership in a home or business can save you headaches down the road. Whether you and your partner eventually marry or breakup, it’s a good idea to make sure your separate property and investments in shared property are clearly defined.

There are a few things that your agreement can’t cover. Most states prohibit cohabitation agreements from addressing:

Review the laws of your state to determine if your agreement meets local requirements.

When Do I Need an Attorney?

An attorney can ensure that a living together contract is fair, enforceable, and protects the client's rights. Attorneys usually charge an hourly rate to negotiate and draft cohabitation agreements, so you'll need to determine whether you can justify the legal fees you'll spend on a lawyer. Generally, a partner that has a lot to lose should consider hiring an attorney, including high net worth individuals, partners with a few very valuable assets, and partners that have children from a previous marriage. For example, individuals with large estates may be financially devastated if a court rejects a cohabitation agreement and decides that a former partner has gained an interest in all separate assets, like multi-million dollar properties.

Laws governing contracts vary from state to state. It’s important that your agreement contains all required language and covers everything that you need address. For example, if your agreement neglects to identify your $100,000 contribution to a down payment on a home in your partner’s name, you may have to go to court to fight for your reimbursement.

Cohabitation agreements can save you time and stress down the road. It’s important that your contract addresses all the potential issues that may arise if you and your significant other break up. If you need advice on what to include in your contract or how to get started, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • My partner and I share a bank account and an apartment, but have no other assets. Do we need a cohabitation agreement?
  • I live with my boyfriend and work at his business as the office manager. I receive a salary, but will I have a right to a share of the company if we break up?
  • My partner and I have two dogs that we are both very attached to. Can a cohabitation agreement address who takes each pet?
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