As our population ages, a greater number of unmarried couples are living together with no intention of ever getting married. While prenuptial agreements are available for couples who intend to be married and separation agreements for couples who intend to divorce, cohabitation agreements have become the vehicle of choice for those living without the benefit of wedlock. The New Jersey courts will enforce validly executed cohabitation agreements, which are used to protect the unmarried couples legal and property interests. An unmarried couple who lives together can negotiate and sign a contractual arrangement that governs the legal, economic and other aspects of their agreement. Cohabitation agreements are very important in this day and age. It is paramount that all unmarried couples who live together must have a cohabitation agreement.
Unmarried partners who live together without being formally married, do not have many of the legal protections that married couples have. These rights include inheritance rights, the right to make medical decisions for their partner, and the protection of New Jersey divorce laws. In summary, unmarried couples need to have an agreement that addresses the issues that New Jersey divorce laws cover for married couples, but not for unmarried partners.
It is important to emphasize that unmarried couples give up many rights and legal protections that New Jersey divorce law typically provides for married couples. New Jersey laws designed to protect married couples – such as property ownership, divorce, alimony, inheritance rights and more – don’t apply to married couples. You need to take specific legal steps and use the right documents to define and protect your relationship and yourself.
A married couple obtains an abundance of legal rights once they are married. These rights include; the right to receive a property settlement and/or support if there is a divorce; file joint tax returns; receive distributions from estates free of estate tax; receive survivor’s benefits from retirement plans and Social Security; obtain “family” health insurance, dental insurance, and other employment benefits; and automatically share in his/her partner’s property in the event he or she dies without a will. Unfortunately, unmarried couples do not have the same rights as listed above. However, if an unmarried couple crafts a comprehensive cohabitation agreement, then they can generally acquire similar rights.
As with all other agreements, there should be a complete disclosure by each partner’s respective assets. Each partner should also be represented by separate legal counsel.
There are many issues, which should be addressed in a cohabitation agreement, including:
1. Will one partner have the right to receive support or palimony if the relationship should break up?
2. How will the property be divided in the event the relationship breaks up?
3. What will happen to the jointly owned property if one partner should die?
4. Will one partner have the right to make the medical decisions for the other by means of a living will, if the other partner should become ill?
5. Who will pay what household bills, and how much will each partner contribute for day to day living expenses?
6. What will happen if the partners have a child during the relationship?
7. Will the partners register as a domestic partnership under New Jersey’s Domestic Partnership law?
8. Will the partners execute a Will and name each other as a beneficiary?
9. What will be the inheritance rights of the surviving partner if one partner should die?
10. Will the partners designate each other as a beneficiary under their life insurance policy?
The above is only a brief recitation of the numerous issues that should be addressed in a cohabitation agreement.