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Defining the Undefined: Cohabitation Agreements

Maybe marriage isn't for you and your partner. Unlike friends and relatives, perhaps the two of you don't feel the need to have an official wedding. Instead, all that the two of you may deem necessary is a sense of mutual love. Such a situation, referred to as cohabitation, has become increasingly common in recent years, particularly in California.

There is no "common law" marriage in California. Therefore, even if couples live together for many years, they do not become legally married unless they actually go through the formalities of getting a marriage certificate and taking vows. Although California does not recognize common law marriage, there are situations where, even after the couple breaks up, one party may have rights to financial support and property acquired during the relationship, but this is very rare. When a couple agrees to share their property or one party promises to financially support the other, a "Marvin" claim may be made. It is usually very difficult to prove the terms of such unmarried cohabitant agreements, however, unless they are in writing-which is rare.

If cohabitation, rather than marriage, is for you, it may be good idea to "formalize" the arrangement with a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement is strongly recommended because it defines the nature of your relationship. You may feel that this kind of agreement will put a damper on the relationship, but just consider the consequences of not having one.

A written agreement will protect you from the possible consequences of undefined cohabitation. In addition, a written agreement will be stronger than an oral agreement. This is because oral agreements can be disrupted with lies and come down to a matter of "he said, she said." A written cohabitation agreement, however, will be clear in court and can prevent lies from ever taking root.

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William A. Feinberg 1928 - 2001

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