When you and your romantic partner decide to live together, it's usually a decision filled with romance and anticipation. You're rarely thinking of the financial and legal implications, beyond possibly saving money on rent. However, whether you view your new living arrangement as one step on the path to marriage, or just what feels right in the moment, there are some issues you should consider before the movers arrive.
Consider writing one, or even two. Most states will recognize and enforce a contract between unmarried couples, as long as it details financial matters like who owns the house and what happens to it if you split up, not personal ones like who cleans the house. Write a second one dealing with the personal issues, if you wish. Couples in states like Illinois should talk to a lawyer, as not all states recognize living together agreements.
It's a good idea to keep separate bank accounts. This way you won't have to figure out how to divide the money if you split. You can have a joint account for day-to-day costs, like food and utilities, as long as you agree beforehand how much you will each contribute. Consider specifying this in your living together agreement.
Again, it's a good idea to keep credit separate, especially if you have different ideas about acceptable levels of debt or significantly different credit scores. If you have a joint bank account, use the associated debit card for joint purchases, instead of getting a joint credit card.
Big-ticket items, like a house or car, should be in the name of the person making payments. If you're both making payments, both names should be on the title. If one person does make payments on property owned by the other, keep detailed records of these contributions.
Many times, one or both partners already own property. In this case, you will need to decide if you should keep such property separate, or own them jointly. Keeping property separate is easiest, but make sure your decision is clear either way. Detailing this in your cohabitation agreement is a good idea.
Whether married or not, parents are responsible for supporting their children. If you split up, the same legal obligations as in a divorce, including child support and custodial agreements, will apply. Discuss the issues of whether or not to have children and how you will raise them before moving in together.
In many states, a person is automatically entitled to at least a set percentage of their deceased spouse's estate. Unmarried couples do not have those same rights, no matter how long the parties have been together. If you want to protect your partner's interests in case you die, you absolutely must have a will.
Unmarried couples also do not have any automatic rights to make decisions for each other should one become incapacitated. Often your nearest living relative will be empowered to make decisions, which may not be what you want. Be aware that a financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney are two different documents, so you should consider having both. If you are like most happy couples, these issues haven't even crossed your mind. Unfortunately, many couples discover their importance too late. The discussion won't be romantic, and might be difficult, but it's worth the effort now to have a happier, less stressful future.