There has been a very sharp increase in the number of cohabiting couples over the past 15 years or so. This rise in cohabitating – and not marrying – has led to a rise in complex and often costly legal disputes which could be avoided with a cohabitation agreement.
As the Guardian reports, despite what many believe – and around one in four people living together think they have the same legal protection as married couples – there is no status in Florida law as a common-law spouse or partner.
The number of unmarried couples has doubled since the mid-1990s to nearly three million, while the number of children living with unmarried parents has risen from 0.9 million in 1996 to 1.8 million in 2012. In addition, there are an estimated 6,000 same-sex couples, not in a civil partnership, who have children.
Basically, the law does not recognize in any meaningful way a living-together relationship outside marriage or civil partnership.
So, if a cohabiting relationship breaks down there is very little protection for the weaker partner. As a result, some cohabiting families can find themselves facing real difficulties should they split up, particularly when children are involved.
Florida Law on Cohabitation Agreements
I have written about agreements, and especially cohabitation agreements before. Florida law recognizes that unmarried cohabitants may agree to enter into an enforceable contract that establishes rights and responsibilities towards each other: “as long as it is clear there is valid, lawful consideration separate and apart from any express or implied agreement regarding sexual relations.”
One of the reasons Florida allows for cohabitation agreements is because the right to contract is one of the most sacrosanct rights guaranteed by our fundamental law.
Should your cohabitation agreement be in writing? While it may be literally true that nothing in Florida’s statute of frauds specifically requires that a cohabitation agreement be in writing, it absolutely should be.
Florida is actually unique in the writing requirement. Among the other states that also recognize contracts between unmarried cohabitants, only three—Minnesota, New Jersey, and Texas — have held that such agreements must be in writing, and all three of those jurisdictions have enacted statutes specifically containing this requirement.
However, given that one of the primary purposes of an agreement is to reduce the risks of protracted litigation and excessive attorney’s fees, failing to have a solid, written cohabitation agreement is counterproductive.
Cohabitation v. Marriage
In Florida, as in many common law countries like England and Wales, when married couples divorce, both parties have a legal right to maintenance and their share of assets, including property and inherited property. Judges have complete discretion under family law to take all the circumstances and history of the relationship into account and decide on a fair division.
However, cohabiting couples have no such rights, regardless of the number of years they have been together and whether they have children.
So, for example, partner A moves into partner B’s property (partner B, whose name is on the deeds, is the sole owner), they live together and maybe have children. If they separate, whether after five, 10 or even 30 years, partner A has no right to personal maintenance from partner B even if she has always been supported financially.
‘No Nups’ What’s in a Cohabitation Agreement?
As the law stands, the only solution for cohabiting couples who want legal protection should they split up is either to marry or to draw up a cohabitation agreement, otherwise known as a “no nup”.
So what is a cohabitation agreement?
Generally, No Nups set out who owns what, and in what proportion, and lets you document how you will split your property, its contents, personal belongings, savings and other assets should the relationship break down.
No Nups can also cover how you will support your children, over and above any legal requirements to maintain them, as well as how you would deal with bank accounts, debts, and joint purchases such as a car.
The agreement can also be used to set out how you and your partner will manage your day-to-day finances while you live together, such as how much each contributes to rent or mortgage and bills, and whether you will take out life insurance on each other.
The Guardian article is here.