If young people are afraid of anything these days, it’s marriage. Studies show that for the first time in our history, there are more single people ages 25-34 than there are marrieds.

According to two recent U.S. Census Bureau surveys, more young couples are delaying marriage or forgoing matrimony altogether. In many of these cases, marriage has been replaced by cohabitation. A 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that half of all heterosexual women ages 15 to 44 lived with their spouse before marriage, up from 34% in 1995.

Whether cohabitation is training for marriage or a total rejection of it, cohabitation agreements can benefit both parties in a relationship when they choose not to marry.  A well-written cohabitation agreement can protect a wealthy person from potential claims of a live-in partner.  At the same time, these agreements can shield one party from responsibility for debts and liabilities incurred due to the business dealings of the other party.

To properly protect clients in these situations, we often advise a prenuptial agreement for a marrying couple or a cohabitation agreement for a couple who will live together and do not plan to marry.

Without a written agreement, the relationship of a cohabitating couple in Texas could be considered a common law marriage, making dissolution more complex. Texas is one of 10 states and the District of Columbia that currently allow common law marriage.

To disprove common law claims, the cohabitation agreement must clearly state that the parties do not agree to be married, are not currently married, have never been married and don’t intend to get married. It should say that if they do get married sometime in the future, it will be through a ceremony and not common law. The intent of the parties is most important.

A well-constructed cohabitation agreement should also 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.

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.