Live with your partner, but never tied the knot, and now want to know what legal options are available in the event you break up? You are not alone, according to a recent poll of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyer (AAML) members that revels a spike in the number of court battles between couples who had previously lived together. Overall, 48 percent of attorneys surveyed noted an increase in court cases involving cohabiting couples. At the same time, 39 percent of lawyers cite a rise in couples who seek cohabitation agreements.
A cohabitation agreement, also called a palimony agreement, is a formal, fully executed contract that states what will happen in the event the cohabiting relationship ends. These agreements can cover assets and support matters, much like outlining alimony amounts in a prenuptial agreement.
“As more couples decide to live together they need to become better aware of the real legal consequences of this decision. Not having a ring on your finger doesn’t prevent your partner from making legal claims against your property and your earnings.” says Linda Lea Viken, president of the AAML. “Cohabitation agreements are basically similar to prenups for couples who choose not to marry.”
But a palimony agreement is different in many ways, too. A palimony award is typically paid out in a lump sum amount, rather than in monthly amounts, as alimony typically is. While alimony is based upon marital obligations, palimony is a purely contractual promise to provide support upon the conclusion of a relationship.
Last year, New Jersey legislators passed a bill requiring unmarried couples who agree to palimony to put their promises to each other in writing. New Jersey law recognizes both civil unions and domestic partnerships, but under the new legislation, unmarried couples cannot obtain palimony without written agreements. Furthermore, in order for this agreement to be deemed valid for New Jersey palimony purposes, each party must have independent counsel at the time the contract is created.
Nationwide, 30 percent of the attorneys say that a majority of cohabitation agreements they draw up are for same sex couples, while 70 percent say most are for heterosexual couples. Similar rates are seen in New Jersey.