A cohabitation agreement is a legal agreement that an unmarried couple can make to help protect their individual assets as well as their rights as a couple. The number of married couples in the U.S. has declined while the share of unmarried couples has risen in recent decades, so the need for legal protections outside of marriage is important. 

Here are five tips for creating a good cohabitation agreement. A family law attorney can help ensure that such a document is legally binding and protects the rights of both individuals.

  1. Remember it is not a prenup. Though some people might think a cohabitation agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement, they actually have different purposes altogether. A prenup helps a couple entering a marriage organize their finances and protect their assets, and is typically more complicated. However, both should be drafted with a lawyer present. 
  2. Do it early. It’s best for cohabitating couples to draft their agreements when they first begin living together, before finances and assets start getting more intertwined. A cohabitation agreement can cover property, inheritances, debts, healthcare decisions and more. Waiting to create an agreement can create issues down the road. 
  3. Get it in writing. The purpose of a cohabitation agreement is to have it be a legally-binding document to protect each party — which it will do if it’s in writing. Many states recognize cohabitation agreements, especially if they are in writing. 
  4. Make it comprehensive. Because a cohabitation agreement is agreed upon by both parties entering into a more united phase of life, it can cover many different aspects of being a couple. These aspects can include things like budgeting and expenses, life insurance, wills, and other aspects of living together. Making the document comprehensive can ensure each partner’s needs are met and protected in the relationship. 
  5. Think about an exit plan. Sadly, not all relationships last forever, and you should make sure to put in writing what happens if you and your partner split up while cohabitating. Detailing what exactly happens to various assets, such as money and property, should the relationship end is important, as well as outlining how disputes regarding the agreement should be resolved. While a cohabitation agreement can largely be optimistic, it’s not complete if it doesn’t account for a worst-case scenario. 

At Sandoval Law Firm we understand the stress of dealing with divorce, child custody and domestic violence. Our firm consists of founding attorney Raul Sandoval Jr. and a dedicated support staff. Mr. Sandoval earned his law degree from Texas Tech University School of Law. Since that time, he has been practicing family law in the Austin area, as well as teaching seminars, classes and other forms of professional development.