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It's estimated that five million unmarried couples are living together in the US. Over 30 percent of singles ages 18-29 are in this group.

For the first time in history, the majority of American households are headed by unmarried or single adults, according to census reports. In Canada, for most purposes, cohabiting partners of the same or opposite sex are treated as married. It's not the same here.

Without a cohabitation agreement, unmarried romantic partners will be treated as "legal strangers" in the event of breakup or death. They don't get the rights and protections of law that married couples enjoy.

An agreement defining your relationship will protect both parties and prevent palimony suits and ensure a fair distribution of property.

Cohabitation agreements should cover the following:

  • Distribution of property in case of death.
  • Financial support during the relationship and after a split.
  • How the debts of the relationship will be paid.
  • Real estate purchases should be in both names with rights of survivorship.
  • Support and visitation of any children born.
  • Proxy for emergency medical decisions for each.

Some practical tips for merging two lives:

  • Keep separate bank and checking accounts. But open a joint account to be used only for household expenses.
  • Decide what percentage each will contribute to living expenses.
  • Create a budget and decide who will manage bill payments.

The contract should state that it "contemplates and compensates" for all services provided by either party. "Sexual services" are not consideration for the agreement. Division of property will be based upon the percentage each contributed to the partnership.

This agreement will avoid turmoil and litigation at the termination of the relationship. It may be the starting point for a later marriage but many singles are not considering marriage. Same-sex unions are also in need of an agreement.

Small claims courts are full of cases involving couples who have departed but are making claim for loans, credit card debt, division of property, or for lease obligations. It's important for un-married cohabitating persons to protect themselves. What has been your experience?

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  • Comment Link Guest Monday, 04 April 2011 19:17 posted by Guest

    Protect yourself from HIS current wife and from your ex: On the flip side of the above comment regarding protecting yourself from his former wife, the former wife can also protect herself (and her new partner) from her former husband. Her former husband can try to get his child support/spousal maintenance reduced if you are living with a new partner.

    Know your state law regarding cohabitation. In my state, I have to include my domestic partner's income, but it cannot be considered in a child support modification; therefore, my ex cannot try to reduce his child support based on my new partner's income. Not that he hasn't tried - twice now. Good to know he feels my new partner should support his children.

  • Comment Link Guest Friday, 01 April 2011 10:21 posted by Guest

    Protect Yourself From His Former Wife: If your partner has a former wife and children, you can say in your cohabitation agreement that your income and assets cannot be used to satisfy his spousal or child support obligations. Extra credit: sign and notarize your agreement and record it with your county recorders office. Once it is a matter of public record (you can redact private information like your salary or account amounts), his former wife will have constructive knowledge of it and its contents. That means that if she asks the court to increase her payments based on your income or assets, the court can sanction her for making her request in bad faith and contrary to your cohabitation agreement. We did this because my partner's former wife made a number of mean-spirited comments about his moving into my house in "such a fancy neighborhood" and about how high my income must be because of my profession. It makes me feel much more secure about any shenanigans she may pull.