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Do Unmarried Couples Need a Cohabitation Agreement?

Article provided by Portland Family Law Attorney - Jensen & Leiberan PC

In Oregon, and across the country, more people are choosing to live together instead of getting married. Many couples that eventually do marry are also choosing to live together prior to marriage. There is no "common-law marriage" in Oregon and no possibility of spousal support being ordered at the end of the relationship of parties who did not legally formalize their relationship through marriage or though entering into a registered domestic partnership. However, the breakup of an informal relationship may still result in litigation at the time of the breakup if the parties do not agree on how to divide jointly and individually owned assets and debts.

Unmarried Individuals Who Live Together May Create an Unregistered Domestic Partnership.

If an unmarried couple lives together, shares expenses, and engages in an intimate relationship, it is possible that they have formed an unregistered domestic partnership under Oregon law. Both same-sex and opposite-sex couples may find themselves in situations where they may have legal obligations to a former significant other, depending on the facts of the case.

The court will look to the intent and actions of the parties to determine if an unregistered domestic partnership has been formed. If there is not a written document outlining the intent of the parties, the court will look to the actions of the parties to determine the parties' intent. Factors the court may consider when trying to determine if the parties have created an unregistered domestic partnership include: whether the parties co-mingled finances; whether the parties acquired jointly titled assets; and whether the parties held themselves out as married.

Although no formal court proceedings are required to end an unregistered domestic partnership, either party may file a petition with the court requesting the formal dissolution of the unregistered domestic partnership in order to force a division of the parties' jointly and individually owned assets and debts. The process for litigating the dissolution of an unregistered domestic partnership is similar to the process for litigating the dissolution of a marriage. If the parties have joint children, custody, parenting time and child support issues may be determined at the same time that the court decides how to divide the parties' assets and debts. If either party establishes that the parties intended to share property acquired during the domestic partnership, the court may divide both jointly and individually titled property in order to reach a fair result based on the proven intent of the parties.

Cohabitation Agreements May Help Avoid Future Litigation or May Help Protect You Should Litigation Occur.

Litigating the dissolution of an unregistered domestic partnership can be costly and stressful. If the case proceeds to trial, litigating the dissolution of an unregistered domestic partnership can take months and can cost each party thousands of dollars in attorney fees and court costs. When the dissolution of an unregistered domestic partnership is taken to trial, much of the evidence presented by both parties at trial has to do with the intent of the parties as to how jointly and separately held debts and assets were acquired and how they were to be divided between the parties.

Prior to moving in with a significant other, to avoid any potential future conflicts, it is a good idea to think about obtaining a cohabitation agreement. Such an agreement can clarify the rights and obligations of each party to both jointly and separately titled assets and the intent of the parties as to assets acquired during the relationship. If the parties own a house or any other property either jointly or separately, then the cohabitation agreement should clearly outline what will happen to the house if the parties end the relationship, and how expenses relating to the property will be paid during the parties' relationship.

Having a written agreement clarifies the intent of both parties from the beginning of the relationship. Should the intent of the parties change during the relationship, the cohabitation agreement can be modified at a later date.

Should I Consult With an Attorney?

Prior to moving in with a significant other, you may want to consult with an attorney about the possible legal ramifications of living with a significant other. An experienced family law attorney can prepare a cohabitation agreement that outlines all of the rights and responsibilities of both parties during the relationship, and how debts and assets will be divided if the relationship ends.

It is especially important to have a family law attorney prepare a cohabitation agreement if you are planning on purchasing a house or other expensive asset with a significant other with whom who you are planning to live. In addition to clarifying how the property would be divided or disposed of if the relationship ends, a cohabitation agreement can clarify whether either party will be paid back for individual money spent on down payments, maintenance or repairs to an asset jointly owned by the unmarried parties.

If you are presented with a cohabitation agreement by your current significant other, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney prior to signing the agreement. An attorney can make sure that you fully understand the cohabitation agreement, and can advise you if the cohabitation agreement will adequately protect your rights if the relationship ends.

Jensen & Leiberan Attorneys at Law

Beaverton Round
4145 SW Watson Avenue, Suite 350
Beaverton, OR 97005
Phone: (503) 641-7990
Fax: 503-646-2053
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