#AskALawyer is a new series written by lawyers exclusively for it's over easy. This is the first installment of the series, and is written by a California Family Law Attorney. In this article, she answers the question couples often have (or should have) before they move in together when they're not married.
Do We Need a Piece of Paper?
I know, I know, there’s no way you want to bother with a cohabitation agreement. You love each other. You don’t think you need a piece of paper that says, Hey, We’re living together. Here’s how we’re going to pay our bills. Here’s what we each keep or give to one another if we break up later.
You’re not even married. Maybe you don’t have kids yet either. Why take on the headache? Why go through all those awkward or ugly conversations about money? About the future you can’t even predict? And why spend the money on lawyers? Instead of paying lawyers, you could be taking a trip to Paris or Rome right now.
Peace of Mind is Invaluable
I’m 39, in my ninth year of practice as a divorce lawyer, and I’m telling you to skip Paris or Rome this year and get your cohabitation agreement done. It’s not the advice you want to hear, but it’s the advice I give to my own family and friends. If you’re in a relationship with someone and you’re thinking of moving in together or have already moved in together, put an agreement in place.
Think of a cohabitation agreement as a prenup for couples who aren’t married. A cohabitation agreement will give you a kind of certainty other couples don’t have: you’ll know who’s supposed to pay for the rent or mortgage, for your cable and phone bill, for that trip to Paris or Rome you will take eventually. You won’t have to wonder or argue about it. And if things don’t work out, you’ll know who has to move out of the house and when, and who takes what, and whether someone leaves with extra cash too. Even if you never marry, one of you may be looking for some kind of ongoing financial support. A cohabitation agreement takes the guesswork out of a break up.
Millennials, Gen X & Boomers, Too
You need a cohabitation agreement especially if you get involved a little later in life, when you already own a house or business, or when there’s a significant difference in yours and your partner’s wealth. Or maybe you have substantial student loans or credit card debt. If you’re saddled with regular debt payments that eat into your earnings, that’s less money you’ll have to pay toward shared living expenses. A cohabitation agreement can help you and your partner work through realistic expectations for paying all your bills each month. It can help you avoid the kind of surprises that turn into fights.
But how much will it cost, you say? At least the price of those tickets to Paris or Rome, more if you have a complex estate. You’ll each want your own lawyer to protect your separate interests and advocate on your behalf. If you can’t afford lawyers though, there are some DIY options online. A cohabitation agreement may not be sexy or fun, but it does buy you peace of mind.