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If you take inventory of your friends’ relationships you will most likely find a few couples that are living together. Cohabitation can often mean joint bank accounts, joint purchases, joint contracting, joint debts, and of course, joint puppy or kitten purchasing. All of these joint transactions can have legal implications in the event of a split.
What happens when a relationship ends? In a divorce, there is a presumption that all of the assets and debts accumulated during the marriage will be split 50/50 between the parties. Cohabitating couples that break up are subject to no such presumption. This means that property you accumulated together during the course of the relationship can be divided unevenly, and often with one party getting the short end of the deal.
One reason for concern is that many cohabitating couples contribute financially to the property that is titled in only one party’s name. For instance, the parties may both pay the mortgage on the home purchased by one party prior the commencement of the relationship. In the event of a break up, the contributing party that moves out has no automatic right to share in the increased value of the property or in the equity gained on the home. Even if you were contributing to your boyfriend’s savings account for the benefit of the couple, or to save up for a big vacation, you won’t get the benefit of that bargain without a fight.
You can litigate your rights through various contract-like actions. However, a more efficient way to protect yourself is through a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement spells out the rights of the parties while they live together and in the event of a break up. These agreements can get into the minute details of daily life, such as which party will be responsible for the grocery bill and which party will be responsible for the utilities. For those more interested in the big ticket items, cohabitation agreements can spell out the rights of the parties pertaining to property acquired. A cohabitation agreement can act to give rights in property that are not otherwise recognized, or it can act to restrict any interest in property rights. Meaning, you can give your boyfriend rights to the home you own that he pays part of the mortgage on, or ask him to waive his rights in any contribution made to the property in the event of a break up.
When a relationship progresses to the level of moving in together, it is important to consider issues like the ones I mentioned above. The costs of delaying marriage can be great if you don’t take measures to protect yourself.