Domestic Partnership Agreements / Disputes

A cohabitation contract is no more than an agreement to do (or not to do) something. Marriage is a contractual relationship, even though the “terms” of the contract are rarely stated explicitly or even known by the marrying couple. Saying “I do” commits a couple to a well-established set of state laws and rules governing, among other things, the couple’s property rights if they split up or when one of them dies.

Unmarried couples, on the other hand, do not automatically enter into a contract when they start a relationship. If you want to legally establish how you will own property during your relationship, as well as what will happen if you separate or if one of you dies, you must write out your own rules. (Married couples do something similar when they create a premarital agreement. Your agreement will be legally called a “nonmarital agreement,” but we prefer the term “living together contract.”)

Some couples find it unromantic or depressing to even think about making a contract governing mundane details like money and property, particularly if doing so involves thinking about what might happen in the event of separation. But preparing a sound living together agreement can help you in a whole host of ways. Practically speaking, your agreement will help you avoid trouble when you mix your money and property, and it will make clear your intentions and expectations regarding property ownership, household expenses and the like. It can also greatly ease the division or distribution of property after a breakup or death. On a more personal note, the process of negotiating and drafting your agreement may well strengthen your abilities to communicate with and understand each other.

That said, here’s an overview of the legal rules and practical concerns you should think about before drafting a contract of your own.

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