Derek Cordier, Esquire
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Since marriage rights are still not available to LGBTs in Pennsylvania, I strongly advocate the use of cohabitation agreements. I have been consulted too many times by a partner in a long-term or short-term relationship that ends up with nothing when the relationship ends. Without a written agreement, arguing in an equity court is a very difficult and costly course to take.

Cohabitation agreements are good for long-term relationships as well as those just moving in together or sharing expenses or bank accounts. A cohabitation agreement is a contract between partners that spells out who owns certain property, including the home, land, and personal property. The agreement can also state who will be liable for certain expenses or debts, and what will happen in the case of a separation or simply if an argument over such matters comes up. The agreement can also specify what type of court will be used if there is litigation, since arbitration and mediation can be less costly than common pleas court.

Such an agreement can even allow for support payments when one partner is in a better financial position and the relationship ends. Some relationships last many years. Partners often come to believe one of them should stay at home and maintain the house or care for the children. Work at home may be shared unequally as one partner may work longer hours or one partner may go to school while being supported by the other. Since there is no legal marriage, if the relationship ends, the partner who does not work or makes less of an income can be in a financial bind and may literally become homeless.

This is not to say all relationships that do end, end badly. Some partners are able to divide things fairly and go on with their lives. However, a well drafted cohabitation agreement can ease the fears of both partners. An agreement is especially important if you plan to allow yourself to become dependent on someone else or you are supporting someone while they advance their careers through schooling. If one partner is not willing to have a cohabitation agreement, both partners’ life choices should be made very carefully. If income is a concern, I would suggest keeping a “rainy day fund”.