So your relationship is going well and you’ve decided to start living together. Before couples get married, many consider creating a pre-nuptial agreement. But you’re just moving in together, just testing the waters – no harm, no foul, right? Not necessarily.
Although it may seem like no legal consequences can arise from simply living together*, California recognizes a particularly pesky action: the Marvin claim. In 1976, the California Supreme Court held that express contracts between non-marital partners are enforceable.** In Marvin, Lee and Michelle lived together as an unmarried couple for seven years and Michelle claimed Lee promised to take care of her for the rest of her life. Although Michelle was ultimately unable to provide proof of an implied contract, the Court’s holding was clear: express contracts between unmarried couples are fair game and enforceable.
As a result, with the sharp increase in the number of cohabitating couples in the past decade, a cohabitation agreement is a highly useful tool for unmarried couples to consider – much like a prenuptial agreement is for married couples. Some factors, amongst many more, to keep in mind when drafting a cohabitation agreement include:
- Everything must be voluntary: cohabitation agreements must be entered into freely and voluntarily – just like prenuptial agreements.
- Put everything in one document: include an integration clause that provides that the document signed by you and your partner constitutes the entire agreement – that there are no other outside agreements or oral agreements to be taken into consideration.
- Put everything in writing: have a clause that requires all amendments to be made in writing, preventing the possibility that one party will later argue that later oral or implied changes were made to the original agreement.
A cohabitation agreement can benefit both the Lee’s of the relationship – the wealthier partner who has financially more to lose, and the Michelle’s of the relationship – the “weaker” partner who relied upon a partner’s promise to her financial detriment. If you are interested in creating a cohabitation agreement or reviewing your current cohabitation agreement, please contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists (as certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization) at Lonich Patton Erlich Policastri. Our attorneys have decades of experience handling complex Family Law matters and are more than happy to meet with you and offer you a free consultation.
Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.
*1 in 4 people living together believes they have the same legal protections as married couples (http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/mar/09/cohabitation-agreement-essential-non-married-couples).
**Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660 (1976)).