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What is a Cohabitation Agreement Under Texas Law?

Sophia Merton
May 20, 2024

Prenuptial agreements have become increasingly common among couples who are planning to get married. What many people don’t know is that unmarried partners can create a cohabitation agreement under Texas law, helping to establish the rights and responsibilities of each party.

  • Cohabitation agreements are certainly worth considering for couples that are living together but haven’t tied the knot. This type of document can structure an agreement regarding financial responsibilities, property rights, and more.

Unmarried couples living under the same roof have to be extra cautious about protecting their rights, as they aren’t afforded the same rights as partners that are legally married.

Let’s take a closer look at what a cohabitation agreement is under Texas law, the pros and cons of these arrangements, and more.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement Under Texas Law?

In the state of Texas, a cohabitation agreement is a legal contract between two people who are living together but who aren’t married.

couple living together with cohabitation agreement under texas law

These agreements are beneficial for couples who want to establish the rights and responsibilities of each partner in regard to their shared or individual assets, debts, and financial responsibilities. This way, the two of you can both have a shared understanding of how you will deal with finances while also protecting both of you in the event of a break-up.

Searching for more resources about marriage, divorce, and family law in Texas? Take a look at some of our other guides:

What’s the Point of a Cohabitation Agreement?

There are a number of key reasons why a couple might want to create a cohabitation agreement.

couple living together with cohabitation agreement under texas law

The main purposes of this type of document include:

  • Property rights: The agreement can specify who owns what property both before and during the relationship and how property should be divided if the relationship ends. This is particularly important in Texas, where common law marriage might otherwise dictate property division.
  • Financial arrangements: Couples can also outline how household expenses, savings, and debts will be managed.
  • Support obligations: While cohabitation agreements typically can't stipulate terms of personal support (similar to alimony) that are enforceable after separation, they can address support obligations during the relationship or immediately following a breakup.
  • Estate planning: Partners can also make provisions for inheritance, ensuring that their partner can inherit in the absence of a legal marriage.
  • Dispute resolution: Another aspect of the agreement is that it can include methods for resolving disputes without going to court, such as arbitration or mediation.

Looking for more information about the legal aspects of non-traditional relationships in Texas? Check out some of our other guides:

What Can a Cohabitation Agreement Include in Texas?

In Texas, a cohabitation agreement can include several key elements to help manage the relationship between two people who are living together but haven’t gotten hitched.

couple living together with cohabitation agreement under texas law

Here are some typical issues that a cohabitation agreement in Texas can cover:

  • Division of property: The agreement can specify how both current and future property will be owned and divided.
  • Financial responsibilities: It can outline each person's financial obligations, including how bills are paid, who is responsible for debts, and how expenses are shared. This could also include the management of joint bank accounts or credit cards.
  • Support obligations: While Texas law may not enforce terms of support after separation as it does in cases of legal marriage, the agreement can specify financial support during your time living together or in the immediate aftermath of a split.
  • Estate planning: The agreement can include provisions for the right to inherit property from each other in the event of death, which is particularly important as Texas law does not automatically recognize cohabiting partners as heirs if there isn’t a will.
  • Disposition of property on separation: Detailed terms can be included on how to handle the separation process, specifically regarding the division of property and the living arrangements post-breakup.
  • Healthcare decisions: Partners can grant each other the right to make healthcare decisions in cases where one partner becomes unable to make decisions for themselves.
  • Dispute resolution: The document can also establish preferred methods for resolving disputes, such as mediation or arbitration, offering a way to handle potential disagreements without resorting to litigation.

It is essential that a cohabitation agreement be drafted with the assistance of legal professionals to ensure that it complies with Texas laws and adequately protects the rights of both parties. This process also helps ensure that the agreement is enforceable and clear, preventing misunderstandings or legal complications if the relationship ends.

What Are the Benefits of Having a Cohabitation Agreement?

Having a cohabitation agreement offers several benefits for couples who live together but aren’t married.

couple living together with cohabitation agreement under texas law

These benefits include:

  • Clarification of property rights: A cohabitation agreement clearly defines who owns what property both before and during the relationship. This can help prevent disputes over assets if the relationship ends, as each party’s ownership rights are documented.
  • Protection of assets: The agreement can protect individual assets and ensure they remain separate in case of a breakup. This is especially important for those who enter the relationship with significant assets or who acquire substantial assets during the cohabitation.
  • Financial management: Cohabitation agreements also provide a clear framework for managing finances, including how bills will be paid, how debts will be handled, and whether finances will be combined.
  • Security in case of separation: Without the legal protections of marriage, separating cohabiting couples might face messy situations. A cohabitation agreement can outline the terms of separation, including the division of property and living arrangements, making the process smoother and less contentious.
  • Estate planning benefits: In the absence of a legal marriage, a cohabitation agreement can include provisions for inheritance and other estate planning measures to ensure partners are taken care of after one’s death, which would not automatically be the case under state laws.
  • Reduction of legal disputes: A cohabitation agreement can reduce the likelihood and scope of legal disputes if the relationship ends by specifying terms for various aspects of the relationship and potential breakup scenarios.
  • Healthcare decisions: The agreement can grant partners the legal authority to make healthcare decisions for each other in the event one becomes incapacitated, a right typically reserved for family members or spouses.
  • Peace of mind: Overall, having a cohabitation agreement provides peace of mind for both of you. Knowing that there are predefined rules that govern various aspects of the relationship can reduce anxiety as well as potential conflicts.

Overall, a cohabitation agreement helps ensure that both partners have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities within the relationship. Essentially, it can provide legal and emotional security in a relationship where the legal status is less defined than in a marriage.

What Are the Drawbacks of Having a Cohabitation Agreement?

While cohabitation agreements provide many benefits, there's always another side to every coin. When it comes to crafting this type of document, there are also some drawbacks to consider:

  • Perception and emotional impact: Discussing a cohabitation agreement might bring up sensitive topics about trust and commitment, which has the potential to strain the relationship.
  • Complexity and cost: Crafting a comprehensive and legally binding cohabitation agreement typically requires legal assistance, which can be costly.
  • Enforceability issues: Depending on how it's drafted, certain parts of a cohabitation agreement might not be enforceable. For instance, agreements about personal behavior or responsibilities may not be upheld by a court if they're considered unreasonable or are seen as infringing on individual rights.
  • Potential for outdated terms: Over time, the original terms of the agreement might not reflect the couple’s current situation, making parts of the agreement obsolete or no longer appropriate. This necessitates periodic reviews and potential updates to the agreement, adding to how much time it takes and how much it costs you over time.
  • Legal limitations: There are certain rights and obligations, particularly those related to children (like custody and support), that cannot be predetermined in a cohabitation agreement. These issues are always subject to court review to ensure the best interests of the children are met.

Considering these drawbacks, couples will definitely want to thoroughly discuss and evaluate whether a cohabitation agreement is right for their relationship, ideally with the guidance of a legal professional who can outline the specific implications based on their unique circumstances.

Navigating Family Law in Texas

Understanding the ins and outs of a cohabitation agreement under Texas law can help ensure that your rights are protected in a relationship where you are living with someone you aren’t married to. Furthermore, it can create a larger structure in which you and your significant other can have a clearer sense of your financial responsibilities in the relationship.

Are you searching for more resources to help you navigate family law in Texas? If so, make sure you check out our Texas Divorce Laws blog!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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