Cohabitation Agreements at The Law Office of J. Michael Clay

Understanding the Significance of Cohabitation Agreements

Are you and your partner contemplating a shared life without the legal bounds of marriage? It is essential to understand that cohabiting as a couple without being legally married does not automatically secure your joint financial or property rights in the event of a separation or the death of a partner. At The Law Office of J. Michael Clay, we offer guidance on whether a cohabitation agreement – often referred to as a “living together contract” – is the right protection for your relationship.

Marriage, by default, confers a legal framework within which the rights of both partners are defined by state laws, often undisclosed to or misunderstood by those entering into matrimony. Without marriage, you are in charge of establishing your own set of rules surrounding the ownership of property, financial distribution, and estate outcomes should your relationship conclude or in case of a tragedy.

While some may eschew the idea of legal contracts within a personal relationship as unromantic, the creation of a thorough and well-defined living together agreement can assure a clear understanding and communication of mutual expectations, particularly regarding financial interests and property management. An agreement can safeguard both of you, providing a clearer path forward in the event of a relationship dissolution or death.

The formation of legal principles surrounding these contracts largely stems from judicial decisions rather than legislative measures, the landmark case being Marvin v. Marvin from California. While each state may have variations in its enforcement of these agreements, the overarching principles that remain constant for unmarried couples include:

  1. The right to form written agreements.
  2. The opportunity to create oral contracts, though written ones offer more certainty.
  3. Evaluating a couple’s history together for “implied” contracts where none were explicitly made.
  4. Invoking equity and fairness in the absence of any contract to ensure no undue advantage exists between partners.

As each state’s legal stance may differ regarding the validity and enforcement of cohabitation agreements, consulting with a knowledgeable attorney is paramount. The Law Office of J. Michael Clay is adept in guiding clients through the intricacies of creating a binding and equitable living together contract, particularly in scenarios involving substantial assets, estate plans, or any visible imbalance in bargaining power. Our skill ensures that your agreement withstands judicial scrutiny and truly reflects your shared intentions.

When is a Cohabitation Agreement Necessary?

Not all relationships require a formal agreement, particularly short-term arrangements. However, for couples in long-standing, serious partnerships, or those planning to intermingle finances or property, a written agreement is advisable and prudent. Even if currently asset-light, clarifying how future potential assets will be handled establishes a clear understanding from the start.

Crafting Your Cohabitation Agreement

A cohabitation agreement can range from an all-encompassing document encapsulating all aspects of your shared life to one focused solely on a specific joint acquisition like a new home. Simplicity and clarity are key; your contract should reflect your genuine wishes in clear and accessible language.

It is wise to distinguish between financial elements and day-to-day living arrangements. While courts should not be solicited to rule on personal relationship matters, they can and do enforce financial agreements when fair and appropriately drafted. Due consideration to separate ownership, inheritances, and jointly acquired property is vital.

Including provisions for the potential division of property upon separation or distribution in the event of death within your agreement is also critical. Without proper legal documentation, unmarried partners have no de facto right to one another’s assets. Estate planning tools such as wills or trusts are essential alongside your living together contract to ensure your mutual desires are honored.

Resolving Disputes

We recommend including a mechanism for dispute resolution within your agreement to avoid legal battles, favoring mediation and arbitration as effective, less adversarial methods.

Future Implications: From Cohabitation to Marriage

Should marriage become part of your journey, your cohabitation agreement’s enforceability post-marriage is subject to specific conditions, primarily that the agreement was created with an imminent marriage in mind. Prenuptial agreements carry their own set of requirements and considerations.


Cohabitation is a significant step that carries its financial implications. Safeguard your shared future with a well-structured living together contract. This proactive measure can ensure peace of mind for both you and your partner. The Law Office of J. Michael Clay is here to provide comprehensive legal support and counsel. Contact us at 210-694-5205 for your Free Consultation, and let us help you build a foundation of clarity and protection as you embark on your life together.

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