Cohabitation Agreements in Virginia
When a marriage ends, spouses are afforded a number of rights that enable them to separate their finances and personal lives equitably. Virginia law tries to ensure that one spouse does not walk away from a divorce in a considerably better position than other. It also provides power to the courts to make decisions on the spouse’s behalf to ensure no one is taken advantage of and any children’s best interests are considered. Unfortunately, unmarried couples are not afforded the same rights under Virginia law when they separate. Couples who were committed, lived together for years, mingled their finances, and had children together must answer the same questions as divorcing spouses but without the law to back them up. This can lead to devastating consequences and unfair outcomes. To prepare for the future, couples should form a legally binding agreement regarding how they will handle their finances while together and how they will divide their property and investments if break up. This is known as a cohabitation or unmarried partnership agreement, and a Leesburg family law attorney can help you draft a contract that is right for you and your partner.
Rights Not Afforded Unmarried Couples
It is important to know what is at stake when a long-term relationship ends. Unmarried couples are not entitled to the equitable distribution of property. For individuals who have purchased homes, furnishing, vehicles, art, and investments together, it is simply up to them to determine who takes what at the end. Departing individuals must hope that each party behaves fairly. Unfortunately, it is entirely common for one individual to be left in a much harder situation than the other, particularly if the partners had significantly different incomes during the relationship. If the house is owned by both partners, this can be dealt with by a sale of the home. However, this is often a contentious issue.
Ex-partners are not entitled to spousal support. Alimony is commonly provided to spouses who earn far less than their husbands or wives and are not capable of earning enough to remain in the lifestyles they grew accustomed to during their marriages. This is not an option for unmarried partners unless they specifically contract for one individual to provide support to the other upon the end of the relationship. When a partnership ends and one individual was the breadwinner for the household, the person who earns less can be left in a detrimental financial situation.
Unmarried couples do not have a right to retirement savings or Social Security benefits. It is common for one spouse to work while the other takes care of the children. This generally means the working spouse has the retirement accounts or contributes more to an IRA. When spouses divorce, retirement funds will be divided. Additionally, some ex-spouses can use the working individuals’ Social Security to calculate their retirement benefits. This is not an option for unmarried partners. Upon the end of the relationship, one individual does not have any right to the other’s retirement savings, even if they were intended to be used for both of them later in life.
The Importance of Cohabitation Agreements
For young couples that have little in the way of property or assets, a cohabitation agreement may not be important. If the partners were to split, little would need to be divided other than a shared vehicle and apartment furnishings. However, partners who begin to purchase bigger items together and mingle their savings and debts should work with a family attorney to draft a cohabitation contract. This agreement can cover:
- Who will pay certain expenses such as a down payment on a house, mortgage payments, and vehicle loan payments;
- What will happen to the couple’s home upon separation;
- What property will be shared and what property will remain the sole possession of the individual;
- How shared assets will be divided upon separation;
- How shared debts will be handled upon separation;
- Who will contribute to retirement funds;
- How retirement savings accounts will be divided upon separation; and
- When alimony may be appropriate upon separation, and if it is, how much will be paid and for how long.
Contact Us Today
If you and your partner do not want to get married but want to combine your lives, it is time to consider a cohabitation agreement. The experienced attorneys of Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC can help you decide if a cohabitation contract is right for you and will help you draft an agreement that sets your relationship up for success but provides you rights similar to a married couple if you break up. Call us today at 703-997-4982 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.