Beyond the Bounds of Marriage
Cohabitation means living with someone without any marital or domestic partnership status. Cohabitating couples are growing increasingly more common in America; in fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 59% of adults have cohabitated with a partner at some point during their lifetimes.
When partners cohabitate, they do not have the same protections that a marriage provides.
The Necessity of a Cohabitation Agreement
Cohabitating partners with children can go to court to resolve child support and custody issues, but a big question cohabiting partners have: "What happens to our stuff if we separate?"
Believe it or not, that question usually must be answered by the cohabitating partners during what is, likely, a messy breakup. Although, there is an alternative to answering that question while you're separating from your partner. That alternative comes in the form of a cohabitation agreement.
A cohabitation agreement is a contract that partners sign that answers "what happens to our stuff?" Usually, a cohabitation agreement will lay out the property and assets that you consider separate, or your own, and the property and assets that you and your partner think should be shared with your partner. The agreement should also have provisions relating to what happens if the cohabitation ends and how you and your partner will treat purchases during the relationship. Essentially a cohabitation agreement lets you make a contract that will ease the headache associated with separating from a long-term relationship.
However, cohabitation agreements do not address a topic that most people think is only limited to married partners, and that is domestic violence. But Domestic violence is NOT limited just to marital and domestic partners.
Domestic violence in California is abuse or threats of abuse between two people in an intimate relationship. The term relationship doesn’t only apply to married or domestic partners but also extends to people dating or having children together and the term relationship applies to cohabitating partners.
Another common misconception is that domestic violence is only physical abuse. While physical violence and sexual assault certainly qualify as abuse, so can any action that leads someone to be afraid of harm. Further, behavior that amounts to harassing, stalking, or disturbing someone's peace can also qualify as abuse.
Technology and Domestic Violence
Since the onset of the pandemic, being locked down in our homes and unable to leave has become somewhat commonplace. And these constant close quarters between partners have been an important contributing factor in many recent domestic violence claims. What we have also seen a rise is a unique aspect of domestic violence between couples, cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking is the willful and repeated following, watching, or harassing of another person using electronic devices and the internet. The first high-tech stalking law was enacted in California in 1990; however, the electronic devices and spyware used to stalk someone in the early 90s were limited and unwieldy compared to the methods available to a potential stalker today.
Modernly, spyware is highly advanced, difficult to detect, and reveals an unsettling amount of the information our devices collect and store that we consider private. Even the new Apple Air Tag can be placed on a partner's car or personal effect, and then the offending partner will have a real-time feed of everywhere their partner goes, and the offended partner is none the wiser. A partner can install third-party software on a person's phone that will download and send text messages, photos, social media information, and call logs without the phone owner knowing anything is amiss. All of this can constitute domestic violence.
Steps for Safety
So, what does this all mean for cohabitating partners? First, just because you aren't married or are part of a domestic partnership doesn't mean you have no options when it comes to protecting your property. Second, just because you are not married or in a domestic partnership doesn't mean that you cannot commit an act of domestic violence against your partner. And finally, one does not need to physically harm their partner to have committed an act of domestic violence. Whether you are married or a part of a domestic partnership or cohabitating with your partner, you should be aware that you or your partner's actions can be considered domestic abuse. The consequences of a domestic violence charge, in addition to punishment by mandatory minimum jail time, can include fines, restraining orders, and a loss of custody rights, to name a few. It's crucial to reflect on the actions within your relationship to ensure that you are not inadvertently engaged in domestic violence and to make sure that your partner is not turning you into a victim.