Cohabitation (or Domestic Partnership) Agreements

A widely used definition describes “domestic partners” as “two adults who share an emotional, physical and financial relationship similar to that of a married couple but who either choose not to marry or cannot legally marry. They share a mutual obligation of support for the basic necessities of life.”

Domestic Partnership agreements

Synopsis: In the event of death or breakup without a cohabitation agreement, you and your partner may be treated as legal strangers. Such agreement protects parties from unnecessary costs and litigation should their cohabitation break down.


The concept of cohabitation includes any two partners who have integrated their residence, property and daily lives. It is often seen as a starting point for people headed toward marriage, but can also be an ultimate arrangement for couples who don’t want the social, personal and legal commitment that marriage represents. There are numerous other reasons individuals may cohabitate, including:

  • Sharing and reducing living expenses;
  • Protecting a union of same-sex individuals not recognized by the law;
  • Allowing older individuals to live together who don’t want to upset family or friends through remarriage.

During such relationships, the parties may contribute to a joint account, purchase property, pay off obligations of the other, and generally conduct themselves in a form of partnership arrangement. In order to avoid disputes in the future, in the event of dissolution of the relationship, or the illness of one of the parties, many people reduce their arrangement to writing, covering some of the following:

  • Distributing property in case of death or breakup (who gets the DSTV dish!).
  • Obligating financial support during the relationship or upon its dissolution.
  • Handling the payment of debts.
  • Acquisition of fixed property.
  • Dividing the principal residence upon breakup of the relationship.
  • Defining support, custody or visitation rights for minor children (although nonbinding).
  • Specifying health insurance coverage.
  • Determining the right to serve as guardian in the event of incapacitation.
  • Establishing the right to make medical decisions.
  • Financial responsibilities for maintaining the “community” estate.
  • Management and control of business ventures or investments (whether jointly acquired or brought into the relationship).
  • Financial support in the event of the disability or unemployment of a party.

The list is almost limitless, and can be tailored to the particular needs of each couple. Please remember that to enforce a written agreement is far easier than relying upon an oral agreement.

In general, the agreement allows you to specify who keeps specific assets and what will happen to assets that have been purchased jointly in the event that you separate.

Cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples under the law, so it makes sense to set out at the outset of the relationship what the division would be if the cohabitation breaks down.

We would also advise that each party makes a will, otherwise any assets he or she owns will go to the next of kin and not to the partner.

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