The "NEVERS" of Living Together

By Jared Laskin

..........When you're in love and excited about your new life together, you may not be thinking clearly about protecting your financial future. Accordingly, you may make some decisions that you will regret later.

..........There are some basic things that, no matter who you are, and no matter what the circumstances, you should just never do when you are in a non-marital relationship.

..........While we would like to say "never live together without a written cohabitation agreement," (see Why You Should Have a Cohabitation Agreement") the ability to get such an agreement depends on your partner's willingness to cooperate. On the other hand, you can observe the following list of "nevers " without your partner's cooperation, and possibly avoid a lot of grief:

..........NEVER contribute money to the acquisition of a major asset, such as a house or a car, which is held solely in the name of your partner. If you and your partner agree that an asset belongs to both of you, it should be in both of your names. (Familiarize yourself with the various ways in which title to an asset can be held: for example, if an asset is held in joint tenancy, 100% percent will belong to the surviving partner when one partner dies, whereas if the same asset is held as tenants win common, the deceased partner's share will belong to his or her estate.) If credit problems prevent you from holding title in your name, there are solutions to that as well.

..........NEVER become so financially dependent on your partner that a break-up of the relationship or your partner's death would leave you financially devastated. For example, if your partner encourages you to quit your job, promising that you will always be taken care of, don't do it until you at least have that promise in writing in an enforceable agreement.

..........NEVER let your partner remain in doubt about your expectations and intentions. Even if your partner won't sign a written agreement, you can at least document your understanding of your agreement in a letter (send a copy to your lawyer or some other third party you can trust at the same time). Your conduct should never be ambiguous. Some examples:

.................... If you give your partner money as a gift, write "gift" on the check to make clear that you are not paying the money out of an obligation to support your partner. Similarly, if it is a loan, document it as such.

.................... Don't refer to your partner as your "husband" or "wife," adopt the same last name as your partner, or otherwise hold yourself out as married to your partner, unless you and your partner have agreed to have all of the rights and obligations of a married couple. "Holding out" as husband and wife is powerful evidence in a palimony suit.

..........NEVER put money in a joint account -- or hold title to other assets in your joint names -- for "convenience" or to "stengthen our relationship." Avoid joint ownership unless you intend for all of your assets to be joint property (or unless you have a written agreement clearly documenting which assets are joint and which are separate). In a palimony suit, joint accounts and other joint ownership can be strong evidence of an implied understanding that "what's mine is ours."

..........Avoid these "Nevers," and you will probably avoid a lot of heartache.

..........The information on this Web page is based on California law.  It is not legal advice and cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your State based on the specific facts and circumstances of your case. See Disclaimer.