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Cohabitation: Why People Do It & Legal Issues

As a follow up to our last post on alternative forms of marriage and divorce on Long Island, NY, another alternative, “non-marriage” is known as Cohabitation. This is when unmarried couples live together, but never get a marriage license. Without the protection of legal divorce proceedings these living arrangements can have serious legal consequences if the couple decides to end their relationship.

Cohabitation in Long Island, NY What is Cohabitation?

These days, most of us know people who live together, sometimes for many years, and represent themselves as husband and wife, but are not legally married. These couples have their own specific reasons for cohabitation rather than legal marriage. As a divorce attorney, I think I’ve heard them all, but the most common reasons I’ve heard include:

  • Ensuring your compatible living together before marriage (also known as “testing the water”)
  • It’s a cheaper option to marriage
  • Marriage is ‘just a piece of paper’
  • We don’t have to get divorced if it doesn’t work out

Consider Legal Protection

There are as many reasons for couples not to marry as there are personalities. On the other hand, cohabitating with another person, particularly for an extended period of time and effectively living as if you are married without the legal protections marriage can lead to serious issues if and when one of the parties decides to end the cohabitation arrangement. Unlike legally married couples, you do not have the protections of divorce proceedings.

It may be wise to consider protecting yourself and your partner through a legal agreement even if you don’t want to get married. States view these agreements differently.

Reasons for a Contract

If you are an unmarried couple living together, it may make sense for you to consider a written agreement to define the rights of each partner in the event of a breakup.  Situations where a written agreement may be beneficial are:

  • House purchased in one partner’s name due to bad credit of the other partner.
  • Sharing a bank account with your partner
  • You are engaged in business affairs with your partner
  • One person pays most of the household expenses
  • One person is supporting the other through school

Laws Vary by State

There are states where unmarried couples that are living together are not entitled to split their assets. However, courts do allow enforcement of written and implied agreements between cohabitants unless it is based on sexual services.  In situations where there is no written contract, and one of the parties denies he or she wanted to be in a cohabitation agreement, the court looks to the “implied intent” of the parties.

Get It in Writing in New York

However, New York does not follow this approach. New York recognizes only written or oral agreements. New York Domestic Relations Law further states that domestic partnership cannot be vague, and should not violate public policy.  The agreements typically follow the normal standards of New York Contract Law.

Seek Legal Counsel for any Contract

It’s always good to make sure everything is defined when the parties are cohabitating together.  My firm can help you create a written agreement that can be enforced in a court.  Please contact our office for a free consultation at (631) 923-1910.