You may be looking forward to moving in with your significant other, but have you thought about the legal implications of doing so? While Common law marriage is recognized in the state of Rhode Island—which we will discuss in a future blog—it is not recognized in Massachusetts. Thus, those living with a partner in MA may need to make separate legal arrangements for various elements inherent in cohabitation, such as shared property, to protect themselves. Unlike a Common law marriage, even if you live together for years and even if you hold yourselves out as a married couple, you will not have the same legal rights in the event of a breakup or death as a married couple. Some couples sign cohabitation agreements to prepare for their life together. These contracts outline the rights and responsibilities of each partner, similar to a prenuptial agreement, and protect you both if your relationship should end.
A cohabitation agreement essentially gives you some of the legal protections a married couple may receive in the event of a divorce. It can cover a great deal of territory to help you prevent future disputes. A cohabitation agreement can answer the following questions:
- How will you distribute money and property after a breakup or death?
- Will you “divide” the value of your residence, or decide who stays and otherwise makes up property’s value to the other partner?
- Will one of you support the other financially, during and/or after the relationship?
- If one of you becomes incapacitated, can the other make decisions about your health and medical care?
The agreement can also discuss child custody, child support, and visitation rights, but courts will be able to modify or reject what is in the cohabitation agreement in order to uphold the child’s best interests in case of a break-up.
Now that you know what a cohabitation agreement can do, you may wonder why you might need one. Every situation is different, and only you can know if a contract is necessary, but generally it’s safer to plan for the future than to wonder what will happen if things do not go as planned. A contract can answer plenty of difficult questions in advance. For example, if the two of you acquired property during your relationship, or you started a business together, do you know how you would split these assets in the event of a breakup? If you have a child together and you separate, will one of you live in your current residence with the child? If you’re not worried as much about a potential breakup, but more about financial security in the event of death, you can always include one another in your will. That said, your cohabitation agreement can also include some of the factors that can be covered in a will or an appointment of powers of attorney.
A cohabitation agreement is a powerful legal method to safeguard your own interests and assets within the context of a relationship, but it’s your job to use it wisely. Make sure your needs and wishes are known to your partner. If you need help writing a cohabitation agreement, or you’re not sure what the contract should include, you should strongly consider hiring an experienced attorney. O’Connor Family Law can provide you with the insightful guidance you need to make capable decisions about your future. Give us a call to schedule a case evaluation.