Did You Know You Should Get a Cohabitation Agreement?
New Yorkers in long-term relationships sometimes delay getting married because they are unsure about establishing a legal bond that would require court action to dissolve. One frequent concern involves alimony, which is referred to as “maintenance” in the state statutes. The length of the marriage at issue is a key factor in maintenance determinations. Many people assume that judges only look back to the date the couple weds to assess whether post-divorce payments should be ordered to assist one spouse who has ostensibly become financially dependent on the other.
This is not the case. Under New York Domestic Relations Law §236, courts evaluating maintenance eligibility can consider whether a “pre-marital joint household” existed and for how long. In other words, a judge may grant or increase maintenance payments based on the period of time the parties shared a residence before getting married. To protect yourself against excess financial obligations and litigation costs related to this process, there are steps you can take before moving in with your partner, such as:
- Establish a cohabitation agreement — By drafting and executing a thorough, enforceable cohabitation agreement, a couple can set forth clear terms on important financial matters arising during the relationship and after a breakup. This document can include language stating that regardless of the particular living arrangements, the period during which the parties are unmarried is to have no impact on future alimony decisions.
- Maintain independent financial lives — Establishing a joint bank account and acquiring property in the name of both parties could seem like a convenient arrangement. However, the more financial ties that exist prior to marriage, the easier it is for the court to rule that the time spent living together established a joint household that should be factored into a maintenance determination.
- Carefully weigh job and money decisions — During the course of their relationship, a cohabiting couple might agree that they can live on just one salary. If one partner leaves their job to take care of the household, the parties should understand how this might affect a spousal maintenance order should they eventually marry and divorce. An enforceable cohabitation agreement can help ensure that these types of career and financial decisions don’t carry unintended consequences.
Like a prenuptial agreement, a cohabitation document can cover a wide range of matters, including who remains in the residence and keeps any pets following a breakup. An experienced family law attorney can create a document that is tailored to your specific priorities and circumstances.
At Bryan L. Salamone & Associates, P.C., our skillful Long Island divorce lawyers draft, negotiate and enforce cohabitation agreements as well documents clarifying the rights of New Yorkers who are engaged or already married. For a free consultation, please call 1.631.479.3839 or contact us online. Our office is in Melville.