If you’re going to be shacking up and aren’t married, cohabitation agreements can provide a degree of legal protection and reassurance. They aren’t romantic, but we made two cohabitation agreements when we moved in together. The wording for these came from a fantastic guidebook called Shacking Up. The first one is an “Agreement Not To Have A Common Law Marriage.” We typed it up, signed it, dated it, and stuffed it in a filing cabinet. It says,
[Him] and [Her], by signing below, jointly agree that their living together is not intended to, and does not constitute, a common law marriage in any state or territory of the United States. Signed, [Him] and [Her]
We wrote our second agreement when we made our first real purchase together. We had purchased a living room set with money from our joint account, and wanted to be sure how it would be handled in the event of a break-up. So we wrote a Purchase Agreement. It says,
[Him] and [Her] on March 6, 2005, to purchase a 3-piece cocktail and end table set together. The price of the set was $509. [Him] and [Her] contributed equally to the purchase price. [Him] and [Her] will each own 50% of the table set. If either [Him] or [Her] dies while they are living together, the survivor shall own the table set absolutely. If either [Him] or [Her] makes a will or other estate plan, this provision shall be reflected in that document. If the relationship dissolves, [Her] shall have the first right to buy [Him's] 50% interest in the table set. The value of the table at this time will be its fair market value. If [Him] and [Her] cannot agree on a purchase price, they will advertise the table set to the public, sell it to the highest bidder, and divide the money equally. If any disputes arise out of this agreement, [Him] and [Her] agree to consult with and abide by the decision of a neutral third-party mediator or arbitrator. The flip of a coin will determine who will select the arbitrator or mediator. Signed, [Him] and [Her]
Since then we have not written another purchase agreement, although we have made several large joint purchases. Now that we’re engaged, we have a greater feeling of stability in our relationship and don’t predict we’ll need an arbitrator to distribute the end tables! The purchase agreement seems silly now, but at the time it gave us the confidence to make a big purchase together. I still feel good about the Marriage Agreement, since we’ll have been living together for over 3 years when we finally marry. It’s nice to know that there’s a real distinction between our cohabitation and our marriage.
I highly recommend cohabitation agreements to anyone who is thinking of shacking up. It adds a level of legitimacy to a situation that is often ignored in the law. Plus, it forces you to talk about these issues early on. The agreements are quick to type up but can make a big difference in how you feel about your joint finances.