What is a cohabitation agreement?
A cohabitation agreement is a contract you enter into with your life partner when you do not intend to marry.
Who should consider a cohabitation agreement?
Anyone with investment accounts, cash, inheritance, and/or real property who is living with a romantic partner, earning income and/or making investments during the relationship. In Washington, even if you do not marry, when you start living with someone, you may be subjecting yourself to a set of rules and responsibilities imposed on you by the court. A cohabitation agreement gives you both the opportunity to clarify those rights and responsibilities when things are going well, instead of having a court decide later. Some couples find that making agreements about what rights and responsibilities seem mutually fair to both people can strengthen their relationship.
Are cohabitation agreements enforceable in a court?
It depends. Although cohabitation agreements have historically been somewhat disfavored in Washington state, some are enforced if the contract passes judicial muster. Depending on the types of assets and issues involved, the agreement may need to pass a two or three prong test to be upheld. Generally, the test will require determining whether the agreement is substantively fair and also whether it is procedurally fair. The burden of proof is typically on the spouse seeking to enforce the agreement.
Doesn’t getting a cohabitation agreement effectively guarantee a breakup?
Hard to say. The process of preparing and entering into a cohabitation agreement can be a little bit intense because it may bring to the surface unexpressed expectations, wishes, and fears on either side. By the time the agreement is complete, the couple may find themselves in a more resilient place of certainty which could prevent break ups.
How do I talk to my partner or significant other about drawing up a cohabitation agreement?
We recommend being direct and having a frank discussion. Consider the agreement to be a means to support you in tackling sticky subjects, to improve your communication, and to enhance your commitment to one another.