Is Living Together Before Marriage A Recipe for Divorce?

Previous cultural perception as well as earlier research suggest that couples who live together before tying the knot increase their chances of the relationship ending in divorce.  However, new research reveals that times are changing and that living together before marriage no longer plays a large role in predicting divorce. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently released the results of a four year (2006 – 2010) National Study on first marriages and family growth in the United States.

The study showed that men and women are waiting until they are older to get married for the first time and the study contributes premarital cohabitation for the delay in first marriages.  The results also found that the percentage of women “currently cohabitating rose from 3.0% in 1982 to 11% in 2006 – 2010.”

Many reasons are posited for the decreased effect of premarital cohabitation on the likelihood of divorce. Many believe that cohabitation is now being practiced among individuals at both low and high risk of marital dissolution and thus may be less predictive of a divorce than in the past.

It is becoming readily apparent from the recent research that cohabitation is replacing marriage as the first living together experience for young men and women.

What is cohabitation?

Cohabitation is an arrangement by any two people who have integrated their residence, property and daily lives.  It is often seen as a “test run” for couples headed toward marriage, but it can also be the ultimate arrangement for couples who do not necessary want the legal commitments that comes with marriage.

Why a Cohabitation Agreement?

Many times, couples cohabiting live a kind of “common law” marriage.  However, New York does not recognize common law marriage and the law will view the couple as strangers, for the most part, in the event of breakup or death.  When you enter into a marriage, couples obtain certain legal rights including, the right to receive a property settlement and/or support in the event of divorce; file joint tax returns; automatically share in his/her partner’s property in the event he/she dies without a will; receive survivor’s benefits from retirement plans and Social Security; obtain group health insurance and other employment benefits.  Unlike, married couples, cohabitating couples can only acquire similar rights by expressly securing these benefits in a cohabitation agreement, which is a contract between the cohabitating couple establishing certain rights and obligations that married people accrue by statute.

Do I really need a Cohabitation Agreement?

Maybe, maybe not.  I suggest cohabitation agreements for unmarried couples who are going to purchase real property together in order to protect the rights and secure the obligations of both parties in the event of a breakup.  Additionally, I recommend cohabitation agreements if parties are concerned about their partner being adequately provided for in the event of the other couple’s death.

What to cover in a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation can be constructed based on the parties’ specific goals and desires.  Typically a cohabitation agreement covers distributing property in the event of a breakup or death; handling of joint debt; dividing the principal residence upon either breakup or death; specifying health insurance coverage and creating a health care proxy that will allow your partner to make decisions about your health care in case of an emergency; and establishing the right to serve as a guardian in the event of incapacitation.

If you choose to live together and not marry, understand that living together does not automatically entitled either partner to the same rights and obligations afforded to married couples.  Therefore, it is important for cohabitating couples to discuss their expectations with each other and if necessary, set forth any rights and obligations in a legal documents in the event of a breakup or death.   A cohabitation agreement will insure that you are protected.