Family Law

Living Together Wisely

You're not the marrying type, but you've found someone you want to live with. You're not alone. Millions of Americans are unmarried and live with partners. Before sharing a life and a home with someone, though, take some time to think matters through.

Just a little communication and planning can make a big difference in avoiding future problems.

Ground Rules

When you're not married, you don't have many of the legal protections given to couples with marriage certificates. Until the relationship is firmly established and you have a long history of stability, you'll probably want to:

  • Keep separate bank accounts
  • Avoid contributing financially to buy an asset that will be owned by your partner alone
  • Maintain your ability to support yourself separate and apart from any promises of support made to you by your partner
  • Avoid making promises to support your partner, either now or in the future
  • Take care not to present yourself as married or adopt your partner's last name as if you're married

Cohabitation Agreements

It isn't romantic to plan for a break-up, but it happens just like in marriages - except divorce laws protect both sides when a marriage ends.

More and more unmarried couples living together are putting together a contract - called a cohabitation contract or living together agreement that answers important questions, such as:

  • How will you split living expenses and who will be responsible for paying bills?
  • Who's paying theĀ mortgage or rent? Is it an even split, or is one person paying less but planning to do more work around the place?
  • What happens if you break up? Will your home automatically be put up for sale or rent? How will your property be divided?
  • If you end up selling the house, who's going to pay closing costs, repair costs and moving expenses?
  • What happens if one person wants to buy out the other? How can you determine a fair price?
  • Who currently owns what property and what property will be jointly owned in the future?

Do You Need a Lawyer?

Anyone can write and sign a contract - but make sure to do it in front of witnesses. It's not always necessary to get an attorney, but it's almost always safer. It's even better if you both hire your own attorney to look over the agreement. That way neither person can complain later they didn't understand what they were doing by signing the agreement.

Important Legal Documents to Have

Statistics prove that all couples living together - heterosexual or gay, unmarried or married - have the same break-up rate - a little over 50 percent. But until the laws catch up, the only option unmarried couples have to get the same legal protection as married couples is to do it themselves.

Wills and Trusts

The law almost never considers boyfriends and girlfriends the next of kin. So if there's no will, your partner gets nothing when you die. While it's painful to think about, you and your partner should confront these issues now in order to avoid even more heartbreak in the future.

Now is the time to put together a will or living trust to distribute your property after your death.

Decision-Making Powers

It's also important to have a durable power of attorney and durable power of attorney for health care. These documentsĀ give your partner the right to make important financial or medical decisions for you if, for example, an accident or illness prevents you from making the decisions yourself.

Living with someone is a big step. Don't let the excitement of the moment get the best of you. Think about what you can do before moving in together to protect yourself, and your partner, in the future.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Are common law marriages recognized in my state?
  • Can you represent me and my partner when it comes to writing a cohabitation agreement?
  • Am I legally required to tell my partner that I'm changing my will to lower the amount of money or assets my partner will get after I die?
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