Buying a home is often the primary financial goal for married couples in California and around the country, but financial and legal experts say that cohabiting couples should think twice before making this type of commitment. Unmarried couples do not enjoy the same legal protections as married couples, and disputes between them that do not involve children are generally decided by contract law rather than family law.
When a cohabiting couple purchases a home and takes out a mortgage, they will both be responsible for making sure that the required monthly payments are made. Proceeds from the sale of the property will also be shared equally, and this may seem unfair if one of the individuals involved has made all or most of the mortgage payments. Cohabiting couples who wish to make alternative arrangements can do so by drafting a cohabitation agreement.
These agreements contain provisions similar to those found in prenuptial or post-nuptial contracts. They should indicate the various financial responsibilities of each of the parties and clearly specify how assets and funds are to be distributed should the relationship end. Like prenuptial agreements, cohabitation contracts may be unenforceable if their terms are not basically fair or if they were entered into under duress.
Experienced family law attorneys may be able to draft cohabitation agreements that would likely be able to withstand judicial scrutiny. They could also explain that signing such documents can help to make relationships stronger by providing each of the parties involved with a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities. When a cohabiting couple decides to marry, attorneys could recommend a prenuptial agreement if they wish to avoid their marital assets being divided by the strict implementation of California’s community property laws.