The stigma surrounding unmarried couples living together has basically become extinct, and more people are choosing to cohabitate indefinitely rather than get married. Although you and your significant other may be happy with that arrangement, it's essential the two of you create and sign a cohabitation agreement as soon as possible and for these two reasons.
Legally Clarify Your Relationship
Sometimes people avoid getting married because they don't want to get entangled in the legalities associated with it. In some states, for instance, a spouse would have rights to assets obtained during the relationship regardless of who secured them, whereas a cohabitation partner may not.
However, it may not be as easy to cut ties with a romantic partner without any legal consequences at all as one may think. Even if you don't get formally married, some states will still consider you and your partner to be common law spouses if certain factors apply in your situation. When this occurs, the two of you would have the same legal rights and responsibilities as a married couple, which could lead to some unfortunate outcomes when you break up.
One way to avoid this is to clearly confirm the type of relationship you have in a cohabitation agreement. For instance, one requirement for establishing a common law marriage is to present yourself to others as spouses. If you state in the cohabitation agreement that you're only romantic partners and not "husband and wife," that could negate an attempt to turn the relationship into something it's not for legal purposes.
Establish Financial Responsibilities
Another reason you want to have a cohabitation agreement is to define your financial responsibilities to each other. In addition to ensuring the bills are paid in an equitable and timely manner, determining how money obligations will be handled in the relationship can resolve financial issues that may come up when you separate.
For example, even though you weren't married, a family court judge may still order one person to pay the other alimony for a period of time. This is done in cases where there is an imbalance in financial circumstances due to one partner depending on the other because of assurances of support made during the relationship (e.g., one person promises to take care of all the bills if the other stays home and cares for the kids).
A cohabitation agreement that addresses this issue could be used to either support or dispute assertions made in this type of case and lead to a fair resolution.
For help developing a cohabitation agreement with your romantic partner or assistance with other family law issues, contact a family law attorney.