If you’re living with a romantic partner and you don’t have any immediate plans to get married, you might want to consider signing a “cohabitation agreement,” also known as a “domestic partner agreement.”
Cohabiting couples often enjoy many of the trappings of marriage, such as combined finances and property. But it’s important to realize that you have none of the legal protections of marriage, such as equitable distribution of property or support payments if you ever break up.
A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding contract designed to protect both you and your partner in the event that you don’t stay together, and enforce the promises you’ve made to each other in the relationship.
For instance, an agreement can define your financial obligations after a breakup, such as the payment of debts that you may have taken on together as a couple.
An agreement can also determine how property will be divided should the relationship end, including who keeps the house or apartment, who gets a car you own together, and who will have custody of a beloved pet.
Additionally, you can appoint each other as your health care proxies. A health care proxy is someone who has the power to make medical decisions for another person if that person no longer has the capacity to make them on his or her own. For married couples, the law generally assumes that spouses can make medical decisions for each other in such circumstances. But this is generally not the case for unmarried couples, even if they live together. If you want to serve as each other’s health care proxies, you need to make this clear in writing.
Cohabitation agreements can be particularly useful for gay couples in states that don’t recognize gay marriage.
Some couples have tried to write these agreements on their own, but this is not a good idea because you need a lawyer to make sure the contract is legally binding. Ideally, just as with a prenuptial agreement, each member of the couple should have their own lawyer in order to ensure a fair agreement that protects you both.