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29 Things Unmarried Couples Should Know About Cohabitation Agreements

by Jan 26, 2017CONTRACTS

Everyone has heard breakup horror stories, whether from friends, family or even coworkers. No matter the details of your relationship, a cohabitation (or “living together”) agreement can help to settle disputes, divide property and can even provide support for a partner following a breakup or in the unfortunate event of death.  Learn about cohabitation agreements below and consider how an agreement, or at least a discussion about your property and finances, can help to protect you in the future.


  1. Cohabitation is a living arrangement where an unmarried couple lives together in a long-term relationship resembling a marriage.

  1. At it’s core, a cohabitation agreement is nothing more than a contract between two people in a relationship who are living together.
  1. A contract, on the other hand, is simply an agreement that one will do, or refrain from doing some thing or things.
  1. Marriage, in all states, including CA, is a contractual relationship.

5.The California Family Code, which governs the obligations of married couples, does not extend to the relationships of unmarried couples.

  1. Most contractual law governing cohabitation comes from the judiciary (courts and judges), and is not codified in state law.

  1. The most significant regulations regarding cohabitation agreements in the Unites States come from our home state of California, in the California Supreme Court decision of the case Marvin v. Marvin.
  1. In the Marvin case, the California Supreme Court stated that unmarried couples may make written or oral (spoken) contracts, the court can “imply” a contract based on the parties’ actions and, even without finding a contract, a judge can rule that the parties intended to deal with each other fairly and find one party indebted to the other under the legal doctrines of equity and fairness.
  1. When unmarried couples live together for a long period of time, they usually accrue a large amount of property, both real (land, real-estate) and personal (cars, appliances, bank accounts).

  1. Unmarried couples often buy property such as a condo or home together, mix assets such as bank accounts, comingle debts such as credit cards and invest together without discuss or writing down who owns the property and how they will fairly divide it if they end their relationship.
  1. A cohabitation agreement assists in dividing these types of property if the relationship comes to an end.
  1. The agreement can be specific, covering just one transaction such as a real estate purchase, or generally comprehensive covering many aspects of the relationship.
  1. The cohabitation agreement is drafted to be fair to both parties, stating what both of them claim and how they will share their property, money and debts if the relationship ends.
  1. Not only will a cohabitation agreement cover property and money gained while you are living together, but it can also cover property you had before you began the relationship.
  1. Property received as a gift from friends or family or an inheritance are often included terms.
  1. Couples can also include terms in the agreement to specify how obligations, such as food, utilities, insurance, and rent, will be handled.

  1. Cohabitation agreements don’t just specify how to split up property once the relationship ends, but terms can also be included to support a partner if one of them should die.
  1. Cohabitation agreements generally do NOT cover household chores, such as who feeds the dog, who cleans the toilets and who does the cooking.
  1. Household chores and personal aspects of the relationship are not covered because they are usually not enforceable in court.

  1. The agreement can also specify methods for resolving disagreements, such as mediation, for issues arising later in the relationship, or while dividing property according to the cohabitation agreement.
  1. Couples enter into cohabitation agreements to communicate their needs and expectations, define their rights, and enhance one or both partners’ peace of mind at either the start of the relationship or when the couple makes a major purchase.

  1. If one partner is supporting the other, or if one partner has given up a career in order to take care of the home or raise children, the agreement will protect the dependent partner by ensuring that issues of support and compensation are stated in writing.
  1. If you have a significant amount of money, have been in a relationship for a long period of time and do not plan to marry, a cohabitation agreement will help you consider the legal consequences that may attach to the money and propertyyou have gained over the years.
  1. Cohabitation agreements aren’t just for wealthy couples, if both parties are just starting their careers or unsure of finances in the future, you can still benefit by deciding how any future money or property will be handled.

  1. If your finances are currently limited, you can put more emphasis on how expenses will be paid so that one party does not get stuck with the full rental and utility expenses of a family home should the relationship come to an end.
  1. An artist, writer, musician, songwriter, inventor or small business owner, can also include intellectual property rights in a cohabitation agreement to protect copyrights, trademarks and patents.
  1. If the relationship ends, and one party refuses to uphold their side of the agreement, you can go to court to have the written contract enforced.

  1. If couples prepare ahead for disputes and include a term for mediation, the time and money of seeking court intervention can be avoided.
  1. Whether you are just moving in to start a new relationship, or have worked with your partner as a team, unmarried for many years, consider how a cohabitation agreement can help protect your property, finances and most importantly your future.

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