Exploring Legal Rights in Cohabiting Partnerships

Nov 10, 2023 | Family


Most couples today live together prior to marriage. It’s widely understood that marriage is a major legal commitment between two people– but what about couples who live together but don’t get married?

Cohabitation, in which unmarried couples live together, has become increasingly common for a variety of reasons. Legal rights for cohabiting partners differ from those in formal marriages.  There are many unique legal aspects surrounding cohabitation. If you’re currently living with your partner and either aren’t married or don’t intend to get married, it might be helpful to understand the legal rights that you have (or don’t have!) as a cohabiting partner.

Property ownership

In a cohabiting partnership, property ownership is a significant consideration. If a couple is unmarried, it’s recommended to establish clear ownership and financial arrangements, especially when it comes to jointly owned property.

Unmarried couples can hold property as “joint tenants” or “tenants in common”. If you have jointly owned property with a partner, you should understand the distinction between these terms, since it can help to determine the rights or shares of each partner in the event of a separation or one partner’s death.

Financial responsibilities

Legal rights and financial responsibilities in cohabiting partnerships can vary. Married couples are automatically financially responsible for one another, but that’s not the case for cohabiting partners.

It’s advisable for cohabiting couples to outline their financial obligations in a cohabitation agreement, covering expenses, debts, and financial support in case of a breakup.

Cohabitation agreements

Cohabitation agreements can be a very valuable legal tool for unmarried couples. These agreements allow partners to clearly define their financial arrangements, property ownership, and other important aspects of their relationship

Establishing a cohabitation agreement is a proactive approach toward safeguarding the interests and rights of both partners, especially in the event of a separation.

Parental rights

When cohabiting couples have children, understanding parental rights is important. Unmarried fathers may need to establish legal paternity to secure their parental rights. Legal recognition of paternity ensures access to custody, visitation, and the ability to make decisions about the child’s upbringing. 

Mothers, on the other hand, typically have automatic parental rights.

Inheritance and wills

Inheritance rights for cohabiting partners are quite different from those for married couples.

Without a will, or other legal documentation, unmarried partners may not automatically inherit one another’s assets. Because of this, it’s essential to create a will and specify beneficiaries to ensure that your partner’s rights and interests are protected in case of your passing.

Social security and benefits

Cohabiting partners may not qualify for certain spousal benefits that are available to married couples, like Social Security survivor benefits. Because of this, unmarried couples should be aware of the limitations and consider financial planning and insurance policies to provide for their partner in the event of death or disability.

Legal recourse

Compared to their married counterparts, unmarried couples may have limited legal recourse in case of disputes or disagreements. 

Cohabiting partners can face challenges when seeking financial redress or resolving issues related to jointly-owned property. Cohabitation agreements, and clear legal documentation, can help to address these concerns.

Legal rights by jurisdiction

Legal rights for cohabiting partners can vary by jurisdiction. Laws regarding property ownership, inheritance, and parental rights may differ from one place to another. If you’re part of a cohabiting couple, understand the specific legal framework for your situation in your area in order to protect your rights and interests.

If you’re part of a cohabiting couple and would like legal assistance in drawing up a cohabitation agreement, or creating a will, look no further than the experienced attorneys at Digby Law Firm. Schedule your consultation today.

Need Advise?

Our lawyers are experts in Arkansas defense attorney and they’re here to help.  If you would like to discuss the particulars of your prossible civil suit with a defense lawyer, contact the Digby Law Firm.



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