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Cohabitation Legal Considerations


Today more couples are living together, or cohabiting, without marriage than ever before. This trend has been steadily increasing and the legal challenges it creates are starting to rise as well. Many of these couples are buying their home together, having children together, and incurring debts together. For the married couple who wants to end their relationship, there is divorce. For the cohabiting couple, there is a headache. Here are my FIVE recommendations for how to address legal issues to keep the headache to a minimum in the future.


  1. Cohabitation agreements. A contract that lays out the expectations for each person should the relationship end. Before buying property together, especially a primary residence, both individuals should have a conversation about the what-ifs and have a plan should the relationship end. These agreements can be put down on paper by an attorney to make them legally binding.

  2. Common Law Marriage. Iowa still recognizes common law marriage. There are many myths out there about what it takes to become married by common law. It is a good idea to check with a reputable source or attorney about the requirements and make sure that you don’t cross any lines you don’t intend to cross.

  3. Debts and cosigning. Be very careful when incurring debts in both names whether as joint debtors, co-signors, or guarantors. You could be on the hook for your partner’s debts even if the relationship ends.

  4. Update your Will. If you don’t have one, get one. If you have one, make sure it is updated. Should anything happen to you, your partner may be a stranger to your estate and not given anything.

  5. Estate Planning. Now that you’ve taken my advice in #4, your partner may have to pay taxes on their inheritance. Check with an attorney about what precautionary measures you can take. You can have this conversation with the attorney drafting your Will most likely in the same appointment.


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