Part I: Domestic Partner or Cohabitation Agreements – Why & What

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By Maureen Cohon, Esq.

Why would you want to have a domestic partner or cohabitation agreement? (I use these words interchangeably.) But first, who needs such an agreement? Our Nontraditional Couples & Families Group is comprised of those persons who can’t marry and those who don’t marry. Gays and lesbian couples are the largest group of our clients, but there are many clients who don’t marry for various reasons. For instance, senior adults, who may have been married for many years and had accumulated wealth with their deceased spouse. They and their new partner may love each other very much but may decide to live together thereby protecting those accumulated assets for children. We have clients in their 30’s and 40’s who have children and may want to live together with another person of the opposite sex. They may move into one or the other person’s home and they may need to have an agreement that allows them to tell the other person that the living arrangement is not working and the non-homeowner should move out. All of these couples have the same problems as any unmarried couple.

Virtually all couples say to me “we don’t need to talk about this as things are fine and why do I need this anyhow?” These are good questions.

Here are my questions to you:

  1. Are you living with someone?
  2. Are there children living with you?
  3. Is the home you live in titled in one partner’s name?
  4. Is the home owned jointly?
  5. Do you have property that you brought into the joint household which has value (monetary or sentimental value)?
  6. What would happen if the relationship is no longer working for you or your partner?

In the absence of the ability to marry in the State that you live in or if you do not want to marry, this agreement will help you make a plan for your partnership. These agreements address the sharing of income, expenses and property and can document for a court and any other interested parties (i.e. to obtain domestic partner benefits from an employer) the “family nature” of the cohabiting parties’ relationship and living arrangements. This agreement may define the partners’ financial obligations to one another and to their children, clarify the ownership of major assets such as real or personal property, and protect the partners’ rights should they ever terminate their relationship. In the event of a separation, a domestic partnership agreement could save the parties the time and expense of litigating their rights and obligations, particularly with respect to property. It may also prescribe alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, as a way of resolving issues concerning enforcement of provisions contained within or outside of the agreement.

This is a document that can make the partners think and talk about issues they really don’t want to think or talk about. While this is a hard, but necessary conversation, you will feel better when the decisions are made and placed in an agreement

Check back next week to learn why this type of agreement would be useful and important to do when your partnership is going well.

Would you like to further discuss your rights and these types of agreements?  Contact us.

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