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So you’re living together without marriage, aka “Cohabitation” or “Without the benefit of clergy”

“Yes, but We are in LOVE!”, you say. “He (or she) would never do that to me!”


Well, if you like excitement and suspense, sure – don’t marry him (or her) but own property together. 

And for even more fun, don’t plan for a split.

People choose to order their lives in many different ways, including living together without the benefit of marriage and owning property together with no contingency plans for if it doesn’t work. 

Perhaps it’s because they don’t want messy business matters to taint their love for each other. But many times it just doesn’t work out. 

And it can get very ugly on the back end. 

Whether it’s a house, a car or a bank account, if you own or share property with someone who is not your spouse, be prepared to kiss it goodbye.  And if you go into debt together, be prepared to keep paying for it even after it’s gone. 

Granted, I’m talking about a worst case scenario here, and it may not happen this way, but it may.  Murphy’s Law applies to relationships too you know.

But if you are going to do it, or have already done it, there are a few precautions you can take to reduce the prospects of severe heartburn if he/she breaks your heart. 

First make sure you understand what your legal standing will be vis-à-vis your partner if you own or share property or debt. 

Then think about and put in writing an agreement for what will happen if something goes awry. 

If you don’t want to talk about it in the context of a breakup, ask each other “What would happen if one of us should die?”  Or become disabled?  Or get sued?  Or have to file bankruptcy? 

What can I do to see that my children get (at least some of) my share of the property? 

One option is to look at your relationship as a partnership and enter into a partnership agreement with your partner.  If you don’t, a court might well do just that, with little or no input from you.  

Be particularly cautious about bank accounts.  If two people open a bank account together, most banks set it up as “joint, with right of survivorship.” 

That means either person can withdraw some, or all, of the funds in the account, regardless of who deposited them. 

And if either party should die, all of the funds in the account become the property of the survivor immediately, by operation of law.  This may not be the result the deceased party wanted. 

It is almost certainly not the result the family members of the deceased party wanted.  

And don’t forget about personal property such as jewelry, heirlooms and furniture.  While title to these items may not have transferred to the surviving partner, if he/she is in possession, it could be a difficult for family members to retrieve them, and many may just “disappear.”  

You can take steps to protect yourself, your property and your family.  It’s a little more trouble on the front end, but it could save you a ton of trouble onwards.

Talk to a lawyer before you move in.  Living together without marriage isn’t just a morals matter, it’s a money matter.