Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cohabitation Agreements - Part 2

It’s a fact that the great majority of unmarried couples living together in New York do not have a written cohabitation agreement. That is to say, they have no document that sets forth their respective rights and responsibilities toward each other. Unfortunately for them, the New York courts and legislature haven't filled in the blanks, like they have done for people who are married. 

As a consequence, in the event that an unmarried couple should split up or one of them should die, the likelihood of expensive and unpredictable litigation is increased because nothing will have been settled in advance. Here are just a few more good reasons why a couple might consider having a cohab:

  • To guarantee the financially less secure partner an equitable settlement.
  • To properly compensate a party for his or her role as a caretaker.
  • To allow the financially more secure party to limit exposure in the event of a breakup.
  • To disclose expectations of the relationship, both financial and personal.

Each couple can, and should, design their own cohabitation agreement to say exactly what they both want to put into as well as get out of their relationship. Cohabs can be customized to address the particular needs and desires of each couple. Typically, however, they cover one or more of the following key points:

  • Allocating responsibility for payments relating to the common residence, including mortgage, insurance, and repairs.
  • Handling the payment of debts.
  • Distributing property in case of death or breakup.
  • Dividing the principal residence upon breakup of the relationship or if one of the parties dies. For example, setting up the property ownership as 'joint tenants with rights of survivorship' will allow the surviving partner to stay in the shared home.
  • Specifying health insurance coverage.
  • Creating a 'health care proxy' that will allow each partner to make decisions about the other’s health care in case of emergency.
  • Determining the right to serve as guardian/conservator in the event of incapacitation.
  • Establishing the right to make medical decisions.

It makes sense to invest a small amount of time and money now in order to avoid major headaches and expenses later. Ideally, a cohab should allow each partner to feel safe in the knowledge that if the relationship were to break down, then the agreement will safeguard them financially. Think of a cohab as an insurance policy. Obviously, you hope that you will never need it. But, if and when the time comes, you’ll be glad you’ve got one.