Cohabitation Agreements vs. Domestic Partnerships

By Henry F. Lewis on January 15, 2019

House keys and judge’s gavelMany couples in committed relationships choose to live together without getting married. The reasons for this are varied, but each couple has the right to make decisions that are in the best interest of their unique relationship.

However, when a couple chooses to cohabitate without getting married, it is important that they consider whether they will be legally protected should the relationship come to an end, or should serious medical or financial situations arise.

Family law attorney Michael A. Gardner can draft cohabitation agreements that will protect each party’s finances and assets, and help them avoid emotional and financial disputes, should conflict arise. Another option for couples to consider is a domestic partnership.

Here, we go over the differences between cohabitation agreements vs. domestic partnerships so that our Oakland, CA clients can make an arrangement that is most appropriate for their specific situation.

What Is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is tailored to the specific needs of each couple. Essentially, a cohabitation agreement should clearly define which assets in a partnership should be considered individual, which are shared, and how those assets should be divided if the relationship were to come to an end.

The best way to describe a cohabitation agreement is to call it a prenuptial agreement for non-married couples. However, cohabitation agreements can also outline how financial arrangements will work while the couple is together.

Issues that may be covered by a cohabitation agreement include:

  • What portion of a mortgage payment or other monthly expenses each person is responsible for
  • How property or other assets will be divided in the event of a breakup (a cohabitation agreement can distinguish between assets accumulated together, those acquired before the relationship, and those that were gifted or inherited)
  • What portion of debt each person will be responsible for if the relationship ends

Basically, a cohabitation agreement is a legally binding contract that solidifies rights that would naturally be assumed if the couple had chosen to marry.

What Is a Domestic Partnership?

In California, some couples have the option to file a domestic partnership. A domestic partnership can be established by same-sex couples, or relationships in which at least one person in the relationship is 62 years of age or older.

A domestic partnership affords many of the same rights that a legal marriage does, and imposes many of the same obligations to those involved in the domestic partnership.

Examples of these rights and obligations include:

  • The right to file taxes jointly
  • The right to be informed of medical care and make medical decisions on your partner’s behalf
  • The right to seek child custody if the relationship were to end
  • The right to seek spousal support after the dissolution of the relationship
  • The right to inherit property or assets if one partner dies without a will
  • Obligation to divide property and assets if the relationship ends

Also, like a marriage, a domestic partnership must be legally dissolved if the partners choose to go their separate ways; otherwise, they will be legally bound to the rights afforded to those in a domestic partnership.

Learn More

Attorney Michael A. Gardner can assist clients in family law matters, including cohabitation agreements and domestic partnerships. If you have questions about these arrangements, contact us to set up a time to discuss your case. You can reach our practice by calling (510) 451-4822.

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Oakland Office

1939 Harrison St
Ste 210
Oakland, CA 94612

More Info Directions (510) 451-4822