Understand What Will Happen to Property
Marriage legally protects a couple who acquires assets and liabilities during the marriage to make sure that both are protected if the marriage ends – the property and the liabilities are usually shared fairly equally. Obviously, a non-married couple do not have these same protections. Massachusetts does not recognize common law marriage so there’s no statutory protection even if you have lived together for over twenty years and think of yourselves or act as married.
If you and your partner are no married but you buy property or adopt a pet together, what happens to the property or pet if you guys break up? If you purchase a home but it only has one person’s name on it, then the person who is living there has no legal right to half of the equity or to get back any money that was put down, even if it all came from the person whose name is not on the home. If you and your partner get a dog and then you break up, whose dog is it? Dealing with these issues beforehand could help a break-up go a bit smoother if you’re able to decide these types of issues while you’re still on good terms. Though we can’t guarantee what will happen if your relationship ends, a cohabitation agreement can help bring some clarity and make the process easier.
Outline What Will Happen if the Relationship Dissolves
After a couple who lives together breaks up, one of the partners will likely have to move out and find a new place to live. If you’ve rented and both names are on the lease, who is going to be responsible for the payments? Who is going to be responsible for the utilities? What happens with joint bank accounts? What if one person has run up some credit card debt to benefit the couple jointly? Those are all things that, without a cohabitation agreement, might leave one person is a severe disadvantage. This is why it is essential to outline the process for these changes. For example, a cohabitation agreement could outline which partner will move out, if they must provide notice to the other partner before moving, what will be done to pay credit card debt, and which assets would be liquidated. Having a plan already in place could minimize conflict or delay over these issues.
Always Have the Final Word
Cohabitation agreements are not just for ending relationships because they can provide rights to your partner that may otherwise be denied to them. Massachusetts law does not give cohabiting partners the same rights they do married couples. As such, if you or your partner becomes ill and cannot make medical decisions, you may want your partner to do it for them. If that partner’s family disagrees with that decision, it is relatively easy for them to get a court order stating that they are responsible for those decisions. A properly written and enforceable cohabitation agreement, as well as documentation such as a health care proxy, power of attorney, or a last will and testament, can help eliminate this possibility and ensure that the wishes of both partners are always respected.
A Massachusetts Family Lawyer Can Help Draft a Cohabitation Agreement
In our over 35 combined years of exclusive family law practice, we know that cohabitation agreements can provide a significant peace of mind to both short and long-term partners. If you and your partner want to draft an agreement, it is important to speak to a family attorney that can help. Our extraordinary team will ensure your cohabitation agreement is complete and that it protects your rights as you begin to build a life with your partner.