If you plan on living with a partner or significant other, how do you protect your assets? How do they protect theirs? Will Colorado law regard you as a married couple when it comes to ending your relationship, and dividing property/debt? In short, it depends on whether you have a cohabitation agreement and supporting arrangements, made together with a family law attorney. So before you move in, consider your options.
What is a Cohabitation Agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is a contract where the couple determines how property, assets, and expenses are going to be handled during the relationship and when it ends.
When a couple is married, any property, debt, and assets they acquire are considered to be communal. This means that both parties are legally entitled to a fair share of these if the marriage ends. An unmarried couple does not have these legal rights. This does not change, no matter how long they have lived together. That’s why a cohabitation agreement is such a useful legal document.
Essentially, the cohabitation agreement determines how the couple will commingle their finances and assets, and how those things will be handled in the future. However, it is important to remember that a cohabitation agreement is only intended for a couple that does not plan to marry any time soon. A cohabitation agreement cannot legally serve as a prenuptial agreement for a couple who eventually decides to tie the knot.
What Should a Cohabitation Agreement Include?
Every cohabitation agreement will be a bit different. While the final document will vary widely, almost every couple will want to consider the following:
The Division of Property and Debts
It may help to think of property first in terms of real estate, bank accounts, investments, and valuables that each of you acquired before living together. Then, you have to consider any of those things that you might acquire while cohabiting.
Now, what happens if you split up? Do you both agree that all property is mutually owned no matter when it was acquired? Maybe you plan to maintain entirely separate finances, so both of you simply walk away with what you came with. Put your decisions in writing.
Finally, what about debts? Will you keep all credit accounts and loans entirely separate? What happens if one partner takes on a car loan in their name, but both parties pay the monthly payments? That’s just one example of a potential complexity that could arise.
Now, consider how each of you will pay for your share of expenses. Here are a few common scenarios:
- The couple rents a home. All expenses are divided evenly.
- One person moves into a home their partner owns. They contribute fair market value rent and pay ½ utilities.
- One person pays all the living expenses. The other maintains the home and cares for shared children.
It’s easy to see why it’s important to get these arrangements formalized. A cohabitation contract ensures that everyone knows what is expected.
A cohabitation agreement allows a couple to plan in advance for the end of life matters. This includes inheriting assets, making funeral arrangements, or having one partner remain in the home after the other dies. Likewise, the agreement can also state that the partners inherit nothing and that all assets go to each one’s heirs.
What Happens When You Break Up?
A cohabitation agreement can be exceptionally helpful when trying to negotiate property settlement agreements for unmarried couples ending their relationship. If you and your partner agree to sign an agreement under Colorado cohabitation laws, you may find that you spend much less time and money navigating the court system.
Do You Need an Attorney To Enter into a Cohabitation Agreement?
You can easily find a good number of sample cohabitation agreement templates online. If both of you sign them, these can be considered legally binding by the Colorado courts. However, if you’d like to create a more enforceable and airtight contract, fully detailing the obligations of each party, it’s certainly best to consult with a qualified family law attorney, especially if you and your partner have shared kids or want to make certain inheritance arrangements. A professional will be able to inform you of your options and recognize any potential drawbacks. if you're looking to get any questions answered, request a free consultation with Tolison & Williams today!