Since 1998, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts authorizes unmarried couples to create cohabitation agreements, a legally binding contract that organizes their joint property, finances, and assets. The law changed following the Supreme Court of Massachusetts’s ruling in the case of Wilcox v. Trautz, 427 Mass. 326, 332.
Domestic partners do not have the same legal rights as married couples, especially if they choose to end their relationship. Contrary to a formal divorce process that addresses the division of property, spousal support, child custody, and child support, separating as domestic partners do not involve formal requirements.
A cohabitation agreement can help protect your rights and assets and a judge can enforce this contract in the event of a separation. Working with a reputable family law attorney can help you determine which provisions fit your situation and ensure that the document meets the appropriate standards for a court to approve it.
This type of contract can also help the surviving party if the other one dies. However, you may want to draft a will and other estate planning documents such as medical advance notice or a Power of Attorney as additional legal protection if either of you becomes incapacitated or passes away.
What Does a Cohabitation Agreement Include in Massachusetts?
A key aspect of drafting an effective cohabitation agreement is to be specific about what qualifies as joint property, money, and other assets. Clear language is important if you ever need a judge to enforce your cohabitation agreement.
Your contract should cover the following elements:
- All separate money and property each party had before living together
- Any property each party inherited or received as a gift during the relationship
- All joint property, finances, and assets
- Joint expenses, including housing and utility costs
While you and your partner can draft your cohabitation agreement on your own, consulting an experienced lawyer can help ensure that your contract is enforceable and mutually beneficial.
How a Cohabitation Agreement Protects Home Equity
When you and your domestic partner decide to purchase property together, you have different options available for ownership and responsibilities. Whether you decide to get the house as sole ownership or as joint tenancy, or are considering a joint mortgage, your decision affects who the house or apartment may go to if you separate.
Some couples choose sole ownership or sole mortgage for personal or financial reasons. However, the party who is not on the title or mortgage may still financially contribute at the time of the purchase or cover mortgage payments.
Drafting a cohabitation agreement can clearly outlines each party’s contributions and what they are entitled to if the relationship ends. This can help you benefit from a greater portion of the home value, or home equity, after a separation. It may also impact whether one partner automatically inherits the home if the other dies.
The Benefits of a Cohabitation Agreement If Domestic Partners Separate
A cohabitation agreement can play a significant role in simplifying the process and protecting your rights if you and your partner choose to end your relationship. Whether you choose to include a provision about dispute resolution methods, this type of legally binding document can cover many aspects of how to handle your separation.
Matters your cohabitation agreement can address include:
- How to divide your joint finances, properties, and other assets
- Whether you sell the house and divide the value
- Whether one of you keeps the house and “buys” the other out of it
- Whether one party provides financial support to the other
You may include additional details if you and your partner had one or more children together. However, a Massachusetts judge has the right to modify or reject anything concerning child support, child custody, or visitation schedules. No matter your situation, a judge always considers the child’s best interests when issuing any court order affecting a minor.
Why Choose The Law Offices of Rachel M. Matos to Create Your Cohabitation Agreement
The Law Offices of Rachel M. Matos offer personalized family law services in Bristol County and the South Shore area. Our goal is to support our clients no matter their personal situation and we want to help domestic partners protect their rights. Attorney Matos brings her in-depth and current knowledge of family law and estate planning to address your needs and help you prepare for the future.
During your initial consultation, we carefully assess your situation and discuss what you hope to accomplish with a cohabitation agreement or other legally binding documents that can protect you and your family.
We can recommend specific provisions to include in your cohabitation agreement to protect you in the long term. If you and your partner would like to amend or revoke a cohabitation agreement, our team can also help you with those.
Are you an unmarried couple in Bristol, Norfolk, or Plymouth Counties? Contact The Law Offices of Rachel M. Matos today at (508) 206-9334 to learn more about our cohabitation agreement services!