Marriage is more than just a ceremony. It is a legal contract between the spouses. Each spouse has certain legal obligations and rights. When two persons get married, they are essentially entering into a contract. However when two unmarried individuals live together, no such contract is created. There many unmarried couples living together enter into contracts defining the rights and obligations of the partners. These contracts are called as non-marital agreements. It is sometimes referred to as living together contracts.
These contracts are similar to prenuptial agreements. They specify how the property, money and debts will be dealt with during and after the relationship. While it may appear unromantic to ask your partner to sign a contract, it will go a long way in making your relationship stronger.
Do You Need A Contract?
Every relationship does not need a contract. It certainly will not be wise for you to turn up for the first date with the contract in your hand. These contracts are best suited for long term relationships where significant amounts of money, property and liabilities are likely to be accumulated. It is a good idea for older couple to have such agreements as it will ensure smooth distribution of their property. If you are someone who does not believe in marriage, then you should seriously consider this type of an agreement.
Initially there was a lot of skepticism about the validity of such contracts. However things changed with the California Supreme Court judgment in the Marvin v. Marvin case (1976). The court ruled that:
• Unmarried couples can enter into contracts (both oral and written) regarding rights that are generally associated with married couples.
• Unmarried couples can create implied agreement i.e. it need not be written down but the actions of the partners will be used to determine the existence of such an agreement.
• In the absence of any implied agreement, the general presumption will be that the parties wanted to be fair and just with each other.
A living together contract need not contain complex legal language. Ideally it is best to keep the agreement simple. Here are a few things you should consider including in the contract:
• Property acquired during the relationship: You should specify how the property that you acquire during the relationship must be treated. For example, if one partner buys a car, will both the partners have an equal share in the car or will it be owned exclusively by the partner who paid for it?
• Gifts and Inheritance: Do you want to share the gifts and inheritances you or your partner receives?
• Property acquired prior to the relationship: Do you want to keep such property as separate property or do you and your partner intend sharing them.
• Expenses: How will you share the expenses involved in the relationship? For example, who will pay the rent? If the rent is being shared, who pays how much?
• Death or Separation: The contract show specify that happens with the relationship ends – how the property and money will be dealt with if the relationship ends.
• Disputes: You should specify how disputes on any terms of the agreement will be resolved.