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What is Cohabitation?

By Jodee Redmond
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cohabitation refers to people who are not married to each other living together while involved in a romantic or intimate relationship. People who are sharing the same living space as roommates are not considered to be cohabiting. The term can be applied to heterosexual couples, as well as same sex partners.

Some people choose to live together as a way to test the waters before they commit to a legal marriage. They may choose to marry at some point. The other alternative is that the couple splits up before they take the step of formalizing the relationship.

Other couples live together in a long-term arrangement without ever formalizing the relationship. In some cases, one or both of the partners wants to avoid having to go through a divorce if the relationship breaks down. For others, the desire to cohabitate without being legally married has to do with not wanting to conform to traditional values concerning romantic relationships. These individuals may feel that they don't need the government or organized religion to make their relationship a legitimate one.

The term also applies to people who live together because they are not able to legally marry. Same-sex marriage has not been legalized in all parts of the United States, for example, or in many countries around the world.

In most regions of the United States, a cohabitation arrangement is not recognized as being a common law marriage. If the couple separates, any disputes about the division of their property are considered under contract law. A person who wants to make a claim for a share of the property must prove ownership first. An order for child support is not dependent on the parents being married to each other, and this can be put in place after the split.

In Ontario, Canada, a cohabiting couple who have been together for several years or who have a child have formed a common law marriage. This arrangement gives them some of the same rights as married couples, but it is not considered the same as a legal marriage. Under provincial family law, a person leaving a common law marriage is entitled to financial support, but he or she does not have the right to a share in the property accumulated while the couple was together. To make a claim for property division, proof that the property was bought jointly must be produced.

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Discussion Comments
By anon269747 — On May 19, 2012

I was with a man for five years and he ended up with everything I owned. After three years we moved in together. He with his few clothes and me with a storage unit of years of accumulation. I had to go care for a relative out of town and suddenly we were on a texting basis and he disassociated himself. After a year of asking for my belongings with negative results I took him to small claims court. I received a judgment for 1/3 of what I asked. What should I do?

By anon212044 — On Sep 05, 2011

Marriage is the best solution because cohabitation is like picking and dropping and besides, it makes a bad impression on our younger generation.

By OeKc05 — On Jun 23, 2011

I think that a woman should never agree to move in with a man just because he wants it. If she wants a marriage, she should hold out for someone who wants the same thing. If he just wants to live together and not talk about marriage and she is not of the same mind, then they should probably look at the big picture and ask themselves if they are really right for each other. Dragging out the inevitable can be painful.

By cloudel — On Jun 22, 2011

Even if two people decide to become cohabitants, I think that putting their money into the same bank account is not a good idea. Probably the whole reason two people decide to move in together is to see if they are a good fit and to get a look at each other's habits, both around the house and in their finances. If you put all your money into one pot, you could end up the loser.

My friend had the sweetest boyfriend in the world. He had the best intentions to help everyone he met. However, when it came to money, he was overly generous. He never kept track of how much he had in the bank, and if he had cash in his wallet, he would spend it, either on presents for her or on helping someone else out. She thought that maybe if they combined their money into one checking account that she could take charge and manage the finances.

It ruined their relationship. He overspent, and when she called him out on it, it made him feel bad, which, in turn, made her feel horrible for mentioning it. Their guilt took the joy right out of their union.

By Oceana — On Jun 21, 2011

I have an uncle who had been married for years and had a daughter. My uncle and aunt split up, and he did not want to ever go through that again, but he did not want to be alone either. He found a girlfriend who felt the same way, and they lived together for 10 years, when they fell into a common law marriage.

I think that realizing that the government viewed them as married made it not so tough for them to take the plunge and get legally married. He finally proposed to her, and now they have been married for many years.

When you have been with someone for over a decade, I think you start to realize, “Hey, I’m probably going to be with this person for the rest of my life.”

By oasis11 — On Jun 21, 2011

@Sunshine31 - I agree with what you are saying, but it really depends on the situation. If you have a person that is deeply religious, then they should not live with someone before marriage because it goes against their beliefs.

However, if you have two mature adults that have been married before and they are not looking to get married again, then I don’t see the problem. Not everyone is meant to be married, and some people live quite happily in a cohabitation relationship.

I do think that if you are going to form a cohabitation relationship you should also develop a cohabitation agreement so that if you break up the party leaving the home will be able to adequately find a place to live. Also, both parties should equally pay all of the expenses so that it is fair. You really need to have this in writing because feelings can change and you want to make sure that there are some rules in place so that there are no problems.

I think that most states have cohabitation laws that consider couples living together for seven years as having a common law marriage, but you have to check with the cohabitation laws of your state to make sure. That is still a long time to have to wait to enforce your cohabitation rights.

By sunshine31 — On Jun 21, 2011

@Suntan12 - I agree that there is a huge difference regarding cohabitation vs. marriage. I think it is sad when some women agree to live with a man that has not given them any type of commitment and then years later they are no closer to getting married than before.

They then nag the partner to get married, and they never do and waste years of their lives with someone that will not make a commitment. This is why I don’t think that you should have a cohabitation relationship because that old saying rings true, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.”

I think that some women settle for a cohabitation relationship and hope that the man will marry them, but if a man really loves you he will choose to marry you, and he will pursue you. I think that men like a little mystery and choosing to live with them before marriage takes that mystery away. This is why I think that cohabitating should be among friends and not for romantic relationships.

By suntan12 — On Jun 21, 2011

@GreenWeaver - I wanted to add that while the financial incentives are great in an unmarried cohabitation situation there are some pitfalls to keep in mind. First, they say that the statistics of people that form a cohabitation relationship have a higher incidence of divorce when they eventually get married. I imagine it is because their commitment may not be as strong as a couple that did not live together before marriage.

Also, what happens if the relationship doesn’t work out? I have heard of horror stories of people giving up their lease or selling their home and then when the relationship does not work out they have to start all over again and find a new place to live.

Living with someone is not the same as being married to them so you have no legal rights should you end of splitting up. I don’t think that it is a good idea to combine your income together either because you may find that you are paying more than your fair share.

To me it makes things so much more complicated. I would just wait until I got married to live with someone. At least at that point, we both have the same commitment level.

By GreenWeaver — On Jun 21, 2011

I think that cohabiting with a romantic partner can have some pluses. First, you combine both of your incomes and are able to pay most of your expenses with ease. Having two incomes may even allow a couple to set aside some money in savings or pay down burdensome credit card debt.

I had a friend who got engaged and had $9,000 dollars in credit card debt. Her and her finance decided to form a cohabitation relationship so that she could pay down her credit card bills before they got married. He was very good with money and had no major bills other than a modest mortgage. It worked out because she paid off her credit card bills in six months and became more responsible with her credit cards.

The money that she was paying for her apartment was now going toward her credit card bill which is why she was able to get out of debt faster. They also had no debt when they got married and I am sure that must have felt good because just about everybody has some kind of credit card debt laying around.

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