Many people decide not to get married, but plan on living together, sharing expenses, and sometimes purchase a home or vehicle together. This can be tricky if the parties later separate, because the Court does not have the authority to divide their belongings the same way it does if the couple were married.
In Oregon, we do not have “common law marriage”, but we have unregistered domestic partners—even for heterosexual couples—so there can still be some resolution through a court process; just not the same as a divorce. Domestic partnership dissolutions are often much more time consuming and costly. Many attorneys do not even know the ins and outs of what they need to prove, so there is an extra layer of complexity. Therefore, when a couple is going to go buy a house or other large purchase—or are going to be living together and sharing expenses—and do not want to get married, we highly recommend they create a Cohabitation Agreement first to prevent unfair results later.
If couples are living as a married couple without getting married, and do not have a cohabitation agreement, some really unfair results can occur. For example, if one member of the couple is not on the deed for the house, that person may not get their share of the equity when the parties separate. Or, that person may not be entitled to the vehicle they drive daily because they were not on the title when the parties separated. The courts try to avoid such unfair results but to get the correct information to the court is challenging when everything is based on what the parties say they agreed to verbally, as opposed to a written agreement.
The parties have the opportunity to control what goes into that agreement, so it can be as detailed as what percentages they will use to share expenses and can be as general as just devising a plan to divide major assets.
What does somebody need for a cohabitation agreement?
The first meeting usually identifies what issues the parties need to address. If the two people are planning on purchasing a home, for example, we would talk through what the expectations are as far as ownership and financial contributions are concerned. If they are already living together, many of these details may already been sorted out, and it is just a matter of turning it into a legal document.
Ideally, parties would meet with an attorney and have an agreement drafted before they start living together. That way all the details are sorted out before the relationship begins. This often results in less confusion and a more durable agreement. Cohabitation Agreements can certainly be created after people move in together, but it is preferable if the agreement is created in advance.