In this day and age, many New York couples are foregoing marriage in favor of living together. Each couple has their own individual reasons for choosing cohabitation: some are morally or politically opposed to the concept of marriage, while others want to simplify the relationship from a legal perspective. If they decide that the relationship is not working out, then one partner can simply collect their belongings and move out. There is no complicated and potentially messy divorce process.

What is important to remember is that New York does not recognize common-law marriages, so if you and your partner do call it quits one day, then you are not entitled to the legal protections that married couples receive. This can–and does–create issues and problems regarding ownership and distribution of assets you purchased as a couple, along with joint bank accounts, debts, and support for children born of the relationship.

The solution: A New York cohabitation agreement

A cohabitation agreement is a written legal document that is similar in scope to a prenuptial or divorce settlement agreement. It protects couples who choose to live together by addressing issues such as:

  • Ownership of property acquired during the relationship
  • How property will be acquired: will they both pay 50-50?
  • Shared debts and liabilities
  • Child custody and financial support if the relationship ends
  • Ownership of retirement accounts and other assets if one partner dies
  • How responsibilities are shared in running the home
  • The right to act as a guardian if one partner is incapacitated due to illness
  • The right of one party to make medical decisions for the other

A cohabitation agreement drawn up in accordance with New York law will protect unmarried couples from unnecessary litigation and expense should their relationship dissolve. These agreements are especially recommended if one partner:

  • Has children from an earlier relationship
  • Earns a significantly larger salary than the other
  • Has considerable assets or debts
  • Gave up a career and financial independence to raise a family
  • Has no health insurance coverage of their own

If you are thinking about putting together a cohabitation agreement, then you and your partner should  each approach a New York family law attorney who can draw up the agreement and help both parties make a full disclosure of assets and debts as well as comply with other formalities.

New York courts will uphold properly executed cohabitation agreements, but mistakes in the agreement and/or its execution could result in a court voiding the entire document. For this reason, alone, it is important to work with attorneys who have experience with such agreements. If your relationship does eventually end, you and your partner are protected in ways that you would not be otherwise.