The decision to move in together should not be taken lightly for many reasons. Whether it’s a young couple deciding to save money on rent or a longtime unmarried couple raising kids together, legal complications regarding money, property and lease obligations often arise, particularly if the “cohabitation” arrangement goes south. Even if things go well, there are legal complications which can crop up such as whether or not cohabitants can play a part in their partners’ medical or financial wishes in the event of sickness or emergency. Whether you already live with a partner or are considering moving in together, you’ll be well served by learning the legal basics of living together. Below you can find an array of resources –common mistakes to avoid, details on medical and health directives for people living together, tips for unmarried couples raising children while living together and more.
Marriage vs. Cohabitation
Not all couples wish to marry and would prefer to simply live together. Couples who make this decision would be wise to learn the benefits and drawbacks of cohabitation vs. marriage.
Marriages are entered into through a process set out by the state. They are created and extinguished through court processes that have particular requirements and may generate expenses. Cohabitation has no particular requirements and can be begun or ended at any time.
Divorcing couples must divide their property under rules set out by the law and the wealthier spouse may be required to financially support their ex. Cohabiting couples can divide their property however they wish when they split, but the lack of legal guidelines can lead to conflict and unfair results. Neither party is normally responsible to support the other following a split, no matter how different their finances are.
Spouses can make important health decisions and have the right to inherit property. Cohabiters have no rights without a document granting power of attorney and don't inherit unless the deceased's will specifies that they should.
Children born in marriage have their parentage presumed and the support of children is directed by law before and after a divorce. Children born in cohabiting couples do not have paternity presumed. Without establishing paternity there are no legal obligations for support during or after cohabitation.
Cohabitation Do's and Don'ts
Unmarried couples living together face issues that are different or nonexistent for married couples. If the relationship ends poorly there can be many complications that exist when a married couple divorce, but none of the legal protections. Making careful decisions about cohabitation can eliminate some of the more troublesome concerns before they develop.
Financial clarity can be helpful, including entering into a cohabitation agreement that outlines the financial and other rules of the relationship so that both parties are clear about the arrangement. Titles and finances should be kept separate and accurate records of the parties' contributions to each other's property should be kept. Gifts or loans should be clearly labeled as such.
Avoid commingling assets, allowing a partner to hold sole title to property you own together, or cosigning loans for your partner's benefit. Don't hold yourselves out to the public as married or become financially dependent on your cohabitant. These sorts of actions can create legal and practical complication if the relationship ends.