Cohabitation Agreements: More Essential Than Ever

There are tons of rights that apply to married persons that don’t apply to cohabiting couples — protection against disinheritance, social security, exclusion from gift taxes, community property and partner support obligations — to name a few.

More couples than ever are moving in together, combining finances and sometimes having children. But what happens if they break up? Unlike divorces, there is no legal process you are funneled into when there’s a split. Good thing, right? Well maybe. But when conflict arises there is very little guidance for equitable solutions. Simply put, unmarried cohabitation is not a recognized legal status — there is no ‘common law marriage’ in California.

A cohabitation agreement (sometimes called ‘partnership agreement’ or ‘living together agreement’) can help to solidify expectations, provide protection to the partner who sacrifices career and minimize financial exposure.

So what categories or terms might you include in a cohabitation agreement?  

  • How will income and expenses be allocated in your relationship? Will you pool assets and wages? Will both parties be responsible for paying bills equally or will it be proportional?
  • Will property acquired before the relationship remain separate? Will property (think: stock options, cars, loans, retirement contributions, house etc) received during the relationship become joint? Stay separate?
  • If having children before marriage using alternate reproductive strategies or through adoption – will both parties be legal parents?
  • Will palimony (support post break up) be paid or received post break up?
  • If one party sacrificing economic power to raise children or to support the other’s career? Will s/he be entitled to financial assistance, transition payments or education/training should the relationship end?
  • If a house is purchased during the relationship, how will title be held? Will both parties have a financial interest in it?
  • If one partner dies during the relationship, will the other one be entitled to inherit?
  • If you move out of state, will California law be applied or used to interpret your contract (ie agreement)?


While ideally a cohabitation agreement will be entered into before a couple moves in together, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to shell out time and money to create one when you are first shacking up. As circumstances change – the couple has kid(s) or finishes school and starts to build an ‘estate’ — a cohabitation agreement may become more crucial.

While there are legal theories to help the ‘aggrieved’ partner when unmarried couples break up, they are very challenging to enforce and super expensive to litigate. Cohabitation agreements may feel unromantic and perhaps cynical — but wouldn’t you rather determine how life will look while you still love and trust each other? That way, when life gets complicated, confusion and fear are overpowered by a clear path toward a fair and swift resolution.

Levine Family Law Group offers full representation, mediation and unbundled services for your family matter. For a more DIY approach, visit Hello Divorce for loads of divorce resources, DIY videos and instructional templates. Affordable flat fee services including document preparation, legal consulting and mediation also available!

**Please note that this article pertains to existing California law and is meant for informational purposes only. Please do not make decisions that will affect your future based on things you’ve read in this post. Instead, consult with a Certified Family Law Specialist – It doesn’t have to be us, but be sure to seek out sound legal advice that pertains specifically to the facts of your case.

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