What You Should Know Before You
Move In Together
By Jared Laskin
.......... People live together rather than
marry for any number of reasons. In some cases (such as same-sex relationships),
the couple may be unable to legally marry. In others, the couple may prefer
unmarried cohabitation to marriage for a variety of reasons which may include:
not seeing a need for "a piece of paper" to express their comittment
to each other;
not wanting to incur the obligation to support or share property
with each other;
wanting to avoid the stress and expense of a divorce if the relationship
doesn't work out.
.......... Whatever their reasons for living
together rather than marrying, many couples who live together don't give
enough thought to -- and may have made mistaken assumptions about -- their
legal rights and obligations.
..........One of the most important differences
between marriage and unmarried cohabitation is that while marriage involves
a highly defined set of rights and obligations, unmarried cohabitation does
not. While some might say this is exactly the reason they want to avoid
marriage, the lack of clear legal rules and built-in protections can result
in unpleasant surprises.
..........1. You may rely on your partner for financial support for many years. However,
if the relationship breaks up you may have no clear right to support payments
(whereas a spouse would be entitled to spousal support). You may also have
no clear right to share in the assets your partner may have accumulated
during your relationship (whereas in a marriage such assets would be community
..........2. On the other hand, you may have decided to live with your partner precisely
to avoid the financial entanglements of marriage, only to find yourself
sued for "palimony" (property sharing and/or support) when the
..........3. You may expect to inherit your partner's estate, but if your partner
dies without making provision for you (e.g., in a Will or Living Trust),
you will not be his or her legal heir (as you would be if you were a spouse).
..........4. Your partner may become ill and unable to make medical decisions for
him or herself, and you will find that you have no legal right to make decisions
for him or her.
..........These types of problems can be avoided
or minimized by, among other things, a cohabitation agreement, proper estate
planning, and a power of attorney for health care. You and your partner
should openly discuss all of these issues, and take whatever steps are necessary
to protect yourselves and make sure your expectations are fulfilled. For
more information you should know before moving in together, also see "The 'Nevers' of Living Together."
..........The information on this Web page
is based on California law. It is not legal advice and cannot replace
the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your State based on the
specific facts and circumstances of your case. See Disclaimer.