Cohabitation: Background and Trends

Traditionally the law did not look favorably on unmarried individuals living together. However the last 4 decades have seen significant changes as the number of cohabiting couples have increased substantially. For a little over 500,000 couples across the nation in 1970, the number is now touching 6 million.

From a legal viewpoint, cohabitation has its own advantages. It allows the parties to define the scope and terms of the relationship without being limited by marriage laws. It is easier to dissolve the relationship unlike a marriage which can only be terminated by divorce. The cohabiting partners can also benefit from the IRS tax rate for unmarried couples.

Cohabitation also brings with it certain disadvantages. Marital property laws are not applicable to cohabiting couples who aren’t married. Also one partner will not have any inheritance rights to the other partner’s estate in the absence of a will. Children of unmarried couples do not have the same traditional rights as children of married couples.

Recently unmarried cohabiting couples (both homosexual and heterosexual) have started a new trend of entering into a contract that defines the rights and obligations of the parties. In fact, many legal experts openly advocate the use of such agreements by unmarried couples living together. However such an agreement may not be valid in all states.

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