In today’s modern world, more and more people are living together before marriage and in lieu of marriage. It has grown more acceptable to simply live together in a long term relationship than to go through the hassle of a marriage license, a wedding, and then all the other societal pressures on you that leave you feeling obligated to comply with the “norm” or the “right thing to do.” The laws are written to do the same. There are more protections for people who go ahead and get married than there are for people who have the same mindset and commitment of a marriage without the certificate. This is one of the reasons why the same-sex marriage issue is so hot right now. With that being said, this doesn’t mean that you can’t contract with your significant other (no matter what gender they are!) in order to protect both of you in the future. Here are a few facts about Cohabitation Agreements:
- They put the power in your hands. This makes you into a very powerful person who’s in control of your future. Does this make you want one yet? If you want to contract for a payment if someone decides to cheat, or for a certain gaming system contingent on the break up, you can. You don’t have to stick to the harsh letter of the law. You essentially get together and decide what would be fair if the two of you split. You can discuss all types of issues. Perhaps one of you is particularly amorous, then maybe you need a safety net to keep that person in check. Maybe one of you has a collection of prized figurines that the other person is coveting, this may be a good time to put who owns them in writing. This is for you to decide.
- This is your safety net. The law is written to protect society and to give lawyers guidelines based on an equitable split. (Please note this does not mean EQUAL) You can create your own document that will give your lawyer and the judge the same type of guidelines (if it goes to court) that the law doesn’t. You essentially write your own law (yay power!) that will decide your future.
- You can’t contract custody without the court’s approval. These agreements are best for those cohabitants that do not have children. The court must be involved when there is a minor child involved. Your best bet is to contract for everything but custody. Once you begin bringing children into the mix, you’ll need to get the court’s approval. This doesn’t mean that it will go to litigation, but it does mean that the court has to see what you’re deciding with the child.
- Alabama is a common law state. Alabama has this amazing thing called common law marriage. There’s no time limit to it, but merely a handful of things that you have to prove to show that you’re legally married. These cases are very fact-based and messy. If you have a contract that says that the two of you are not getting married but are merely cohabitating without the intent of marriage, this saves you from common law claims. The last thing you want is to live with someone for 20 years intending to keep your retirement all to yourself, and then she comes bouncing along stating the two of you have been common law married for 10 years and demanding half your retirement when you haven’t heard from her in 6 months.
- This protects your premarital interest. Okay, so you’ve decided to just do the marriage thing. You’ve been together for 45 years, and you’re thinking you want a giant party with all your friends around. You don’t get out much these days, and you’ve finally decided maybe “commitment” isn’t a terrible situation to be in. Luckily, you’ve both had this wonderful contract you put into place years ago that protected your interests in the meantime. Two years later, she’s realized you’re not as young as you used to be. You’ve broken a hip, and she’s found a strapping younger man who is able to do many more things than you are able to do. She enjoys going salsa dancing with him every Friday (obviously, this is where I was going with this…)!! Without that contract your divorce would be based off of 2 years of marriage, and not the 45 years that the two of you really put into play. Now, since you had a document in place that protected your interests in a split, you have something to help the Judge move along with what really is equitable now.