In today’s society, more and more men and women are deciding to live together without being married, often referred to as cohabitation. As a result, the importance of having a cohabitation agreement is worth discussing. In many cases, an unmarried couple acquires property together, invests together, and mixes assets to make joint purchases. In other cases, people come into the relationship with significant assets of their own, that they share with their partner during the course of the cohabitation, but intend to keep separate. While each situation is different, when the relationship falls apart, it is not uncommon for couples to disagree on many issues, like how to divide bank accounts, property, loans, and gifts given to one another.
In New Jersey, there are certain laws that handle the rights and duties resulting from marriage that a divorcing couple can rely upon. There are also laws that protect a spouse’s inheritance when the other spouse dies. However, the same is not true for unmarried couples that are living together in New Jersey. Only general contract law is relied upon to help resolve disputes between unmarried couples. Therefore, it is a good idea when a couple decides to cohabitate that they specify, in writing, what each partner’s responsibilities and rights are if they separate. This is typically referred to as a “cohabitation agreement.” Having a cohabitation agreement can help couples avoid costly and time-consuming litigation in the event they break-up.
Here are a few issues, among others, that couples might want to address in a cohabitation agreement:
Property – How should the couple handle property that was jointly acquired during the cohabitation upon break-up or death? Is there any property that was acquired prior to the relationship that one partner intends to share with the other? What if someone owned the home prior to the relationship, when does the other person have to move out upon break-up or death of the owner?
Finances—How should the couple handle their incomes; should they be deposited into a joint account or kept separate? Who will be responsible for the shared living expenses? Will either spouse support the other spouse during the relationship or upon break-up or will you both remain financially independent?
Gifts—What should happen to gifts given during the relationship? Should they be returned if the couple breaks up?
Pets—Who will keep any pets acquired during the cohabitation if the couple breaks up?
In addition to cohabitation agreements, there are also additional precautions an unmarried couple can take to help avoid numerous issues and conflicts between partners and family members that might arise if no action is taken ahead of time:
♦ Last Will and Testament— Does either partner intend for the other to inherit from them upon death?
♦ Durable Medical Power of Attorney –Does either partner intend for the other to make health care decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so?
♦ Durable Power of Attorney for Finances – Does either partner intend for the other to handle their financial matters if they become incapacitated?
While it may seem unromantic to talk about a Cohabitation Agreement, it can help save you emotional and financial heartache down the line. Such an agreement lets you and your partner, at the outset when you are more likely to be thinking rationally and less emotionally, to maturely talk about these issues. You hope to never have to call upon, but it is nice to know it is there.
If you are considering a cohabitation agreement, it is a good idea to talk to your partner regarding what you agree upon, and then one partner should contact an attorney to draw up the Agreement. The other partner should then have the Agreement reviewed by his/her own, independent attorney.
Contact The Law Office of Jill Jedrusiak, LLC today at (732) 719-2202 if you would like to have a Cohabitation Agreement drafted or reviewed.