Many couples across Pennsylvania and the United States have decided to forgo marriage and live together.

“It’s just a piece of paper,” some say.

That marriage license is an important piece of paper, however – one that spells out the obligations and rights for both partners in the relationship. But there’s nothing that says unmarried people who live together can’t have a piece of paper to protect them in a relationship, too.

It’s called a cohabitation agreement, a nonmarital agreement – or, put more casually, a living together contract.

It’s similar to a prenuptial agreement in that it cements how both the couple’s assets and debts will be shared should a relationship end. But it also lays out obligations during the relationship.

These contracts are appropriate for long-term relationships, where couples might have large joint assets or accumulate debt together, such as buying a home.

A nonmarital agreement should address topics similar to the following:

  • Property brought into the relationship. Many people want to keep items they bring into their joint home as their own property. Detailing this property in a cohabitation agreement will ensure there is no confusion or disagreement down the road.
  • Property that is received as a gift or inheritance. If you or your partner know you will be receiving a gift of some value – either sentimental or monetary – or an inheritance, put into writing who will receive that property in the event the relationship ends.
  • Property that is jointly acquired. If one party buys something for joint use – a car, furniture or a big-screen TV, perhaps – who gets it in the event of a breakup? Do both people own it so one party should buy out the other? Does the person who paid for it own it?
  • Who pays the bills? Spell out who pays the rent, who pays the utilities, who buys the groceries – or how the expenses should be shared.
  • And some cohabitation agreements include a manner for dispute resolution. Mediation or arbitration could be an excellent way to solve disagreements.

Before merging your assets with a partner, signing a cohabitation agreement could be an ideal way to put all fears and “what ifs?” to rest. A Pennsylvania attorney versed in family law can discuss with you the pros and cons and what such an agreement should include.