An article in USA Today indicated that the number of people living together has significantly increased over the last 5 to 10 years. This article, which centered on heterosexual couples, reflected on the reasons for the increase and the impact on marriage.
In giving this some thought, it came to me that people may be living together for many of the same reasons that people get married but without the “commitment”. In today’s economy, it certainly is more affordable to have two incomes paying for one household as opposed to two incomes paying for two households. This is especially true if the couple is spending significant time at only one residence.
This increase could be out of convenience, a friendship or one party’s way of holding on to the other without having to take the “big step” of marriage or maybe just the general fear of commitment. Regardless of the reasons, living together does not come without significant legal risks. Without even considering those states that acknowledge a certain amount of time of co-habitation to be the equivalent of common law marriage, there are other issues of concern. First, if the two of you sign an apartment lease, what happens if you split? Who is responsible for payment of the rent, if the other packs up and leaves? Although both of you are on the lease it could be an extremely uncomfortable situation.
It gets even worse if you buy real estate together. Both of your names are on the deed but what happens when the relationship ends? Who gets the house? If the house is going to be sold how are the proceeds divided? Did one of the two put more into the down payment than the other and if so will they get that out from the proceeds? What if the proceeds don’t cover the debt, who pays for the remaining debt? What about personal property that was purchased together over the years?
In addition, what if one party moves in with the other into a house already owned by one of the two and the deed is never changed into both names? What if the party that moved into the house financially contributed to major improvements on the house owned by the other and the parties split? Will that person get their money back or will it be a windfall to the person who owns the house?
Finally, and most concerning is what if the two have a child or children. What custody and placement rights does the father have if the mother moves out of the house when the two are not married? What financial obligation does the father have to support the child if not married?
These are just some of the issues facing couples that co-habitat without binding legal agreements in the event that the relationship does not last. There are no real viable statistics regarding co-habitation like thre is with marriage and divorce. However, common sense tells you that if 50% of the marriages fail, living together has to be as high if not higher. This means that the likelihood of issues are real and are going to increase over the years.
If you are in a co-habitation arrangement or are considering one, you definitely need to consider the benefits of a co-habitation agreement. This will outline everyone’s responsibility both during the relationship as well as what will happen if the relationship ends. Of course, if the relationship does not end there is nothing to worry about.
Many people consider co-habitation agreements to be the same as pre-nuptial agreements and are hesitant to request one for fear that the other will consider it as a lack of commitment. On the other hand, a well drafted co-habitation agreement can protect and help both sides in the event of a break-up and should not be seen as just a tool to protect the one with the money.
If you, a loved one or a family member are in a co-habitation arrangements or have concerns about co-habitation please please feel free to address them by commenting to this blog.