By the thousands, couples are living together without marrying these days. This growing phenomenon has produced a noticeable increase in cohabitation agreements to clean up the mess when relationships go off the rails.

According to a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fully half of heterosexual women ages 15 to 44 lived with their spouse outside marriage, up from 34% in 1995.

A well-constructed cohabitation agreement should spell out the following:

  • The couple’s financial structure, including who works and who doesn’t, and who pays for what.
  • What are the obligations of the parties, including all assets and liabilities?
  • Who owns the property where the couple lives?
  • What protocols must you follow if one party moves out. This section should include notice provisions.
  • Requirement to reaffirm this agreement on a continuing basis.

Agreements should disavow that the relationship is a common law marriage, help you avoid the pain and anger of a break-up, and can even provide inducements for one party or the other. Those can include a monthly spending budget for miscellaneous expenses; guaranteed date nights; and requirements pertaining to wills, trusts, and life insurance.

Each party must enter into the agreement voluntarily, and each should be represented by an experienced family law attorney. This is the best way to insure the agreement will hold up in court.

For people who want a relationship but don’t want to be married, and want to avoid the financial and emotional turmoil of a possible breakup, a cohabitation agreement makes perfect sense.