It’s a natural step in many relationships and a question that can cause a lot of thought and drama: Should we move in together? As wonderful an experience as it can be, living together, also called cohabitation, can sometimes also result in legal issues unforeseen at the time a couple decides to move in together. And while we have plenty of sources for emotional advice regarding cohabitation, we may not be aware of the legal matters that can arise from moving in together. FindLaw’s Living Together sub-section of FindLaw's Family Law Center can provide legal information and resources for unmarried couples who live together (or are considering doing so).
This section provides legal information and tips to help couples avoid future problems or deal with existing issues that can come up regarding money, property, lease agreements, and more. Whether a simple cohabitation agreement is the solution, or domestic partnership or common law marriage come into play, this section has the resources to help learn more about the law of living together.
Living Together: The Big Picture
Cohabitating without being married can be a valuable test for a relationship and may prove to both parties that marriage is a good idea. But this arrangement can also place both parties in unique legal situations. While moving in together lacks the formal legal requirements of marriage, this more relaxed arrangement can also be less regulated when it ends, leaving couples in a legal limbo regarding money, property, and children.
Cohabitation and Property
Divorcing spouses have the obligation to divide their property by legally prescribed methods. But at the end of a cohabitation relationship, the absence of these legal guidelines can create even more conflict as to who gets what. Couples who live together and then split up usually don’t incur the same alimony or financial obligation to support each other after the break-up, unless they have entered into a contract providing otherwise. Therefore, a cohabitating partner who has become accustomed to being supported may face unexpected financial hardship after the split.
Cohabitation and Kids
While children born during a marriage are presumed to be the offspring of the husband and wife, this presumption doesn’t exist for cohabitating couples. The father of a child born to unmarried cohabitants isn’t entitled to a legal presumption of paternity, and may have to establish his paternity.
And although married couples must financially support children born during the marriage, the male in a cohabitating partnership does not incur an immediate legal obligation to support children born during the cohabitation. However, if paternity is established, the non-custodial parent has the same legal obligation to support his or her children as legally separated or divorced parents.
While it may sound unromantic, creating and signing a cohabitation agreement may help avoid some of the most common legal issues during and after cohabitation. Sometimes referred to as “living together contracts,” these agreements can determine financial arrangements, clarify property ownership, and list each party’s rights and responsibilities should the cohabitation come to an end.
Cohabitation Legal Help
The issues faced by cohabitating couples can go beyond whether a couch will fit in the shared living room, or who gets the couch should they break up. From cohabitation agreements to child support, an experienced family law attorney can help you responsibly enter, and exit, any living together situation.