Massachusetts Legal Blog
How a Cohabitation Agreement Can Help Your Relationship’s Finances
Moving in together is an important step for many couples. It can demonstrate your commitment to each other and, for many, is paramount to determining if you are both ready for marriage. But it can also be extremely stressful, as you will both now have to split living costs, merge your incomes, share property, and figure out your finances. When you throw in conflicting personalities, this could put you in a sticky situation if one of you moves out or your breakup down the line. However, a cohabitation agreement may alleviate a lot of these problems.
Legal Rights of Unmarried Couples
By default, unmarried couples do not have the same rights and legal protections as married couples in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If a couple splits up, there is no legal process of dissolving the relationship through a divorce or dividing up property. However, that does not mean there are not issues. Unmarried couples who move in with each other often have to share property, whether it be furniture, TVs, or even streaming accounts. This can make it really difficult to divide up personal property in a breakup. What if you both split the costs on a new couch or TV? What if you helped pay for your partner’s school laptop or textbooks? What if you bought a house together? What legal options are available to you?
Legally speaking, you could pursue a lawsuit against your ex if they tried to keep any property you paid for. If you have shared property, meaning you both paid for some of it, you could try to buy their portion of the property or sell your portion of it. This can all get rather complicated; however, a cohabitation agreement can help you bypass many of these issues.
What Is a Cohabitation Agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is similar to a pre-nuptial agreement in that it allows couples to outline their financial situation before moving in together. While not as universally accepted in Massachusetts’s courts as pre-nuptials, a cohabitation will cover many of the same topics, including:
- Who owns property they brought into the relationship
- How incomes and expenses are divided and whether they are merged
- Who owns new property
- What if you purchase a house together
- How property is divided in a breakup
- What happens to a lease after a breakup
While these agreements are not a cure-all, they can provide important legal protections and allow you to focus on your relationship without having to stress over financial matters. If push does come to shove down the line and your property rights are infringed upon during a breakup, you can use the cohabitation agreement to protect your property.
Is an Agreement Enforceable?
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, unmarried couples are allowed to draft cohabitation agreements to safeguard their property in the event of a breakup. These contracts are supported by a 1998 Supreme Court of Massachusetts’s ruling in the case of Wilcox v. Trautz, 427 Mass. 326, 332. However, it is important to note that these agreements are subject to contract laws, not divorce laws. If your case does go to trial, then a judge will have to determine how the contract should be interpreted and enforced. In this situation, you will want to have an experienced Boston family law attorney at your side to ensure your rights are protected, especially if there are issues regarding child custody.
At DiBella Law Offices, P.C., our lead attorney has more than a decade of experience representing clients in divorces, custody battles, and alimony disputes. If you are having difficulties enforcing a pre-marital agreement, then reach out to our office at (617) 870-0907 to schedule a free initial consultation. We provide legal representation for clients in Boston, Methuen, Burlington, and Andover.
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