Legally Speaking: I’m moving in with my boyfriend . . . Now what?
Apr 01, 2012 02:49PM
It’s been said that, in matters of love, “When you know, you know.” But when your heart tells you to pack up your stuff and move in with your beau, should you listen to it? Nowadays more than half of all couples cohabit prior to marriage, making cohabitation the most common way couples in America begin life together. Almost every woman has dreamt about playing house with her boyfriend, but not all couples that cohabitate are Barbie and Ken. As savvy women, we must realize that not all of these at-one-time-perfect couples make it. So before you unpack that Salad Spinner, there are some practical considerations that you and your Prince Charming should address:
1. Who is named on the lease/mortgage?This one is a double-edged sword, and so you have to carefully evaluate what side you want to be on. On the one hand, if you do not have your name on the lease or mortgage, and you break up with your sweetie, you will likely have little to no rights to the home. You could literally be left out in the cold. Plus, even if you have been contributing to monthly mortgage payments, you will likely not have any ownership or equity in the home. Not only that, but any improvements to the home that you made or paid for will likely stay with the home, and you won’t see any reimbursement unless you had some agreement in place, saved all your evidence and you are willing to get involved into what is generally a lengthy, stressful, time-consuming and expensive litigation. On the other hand, if your name is on the lease or mortgage, and you kick your man to the curb, you could be liable for the entire rent or mortgage. Whether your guy is also named on the lease does not matter; your landlord or bank could demand the entire payment from you only. If you can’t afford your home on your own, this is obviously a problem.
2. Are you currently receiving maintenance from a prior marriage?If you are receiving spousal support from a prior marriage, your benefits may be terminated if you move in with Prince Charming.
3. Who will own items purchased for the home?This one is tricky, because if you and your honey live together for a long time, you will likely forget who purchased the George Foreman (probably him) and who purchased Dawson’s Creek Season Two on DVD (probably you). Even more problematic are the items to which you both contributed, like a television or couch. We might even suggest that you don’t go in jointly on any purchases, because they are difficult to separate.
He can buy the ridiculously thin, takes–up-half-the-living-room tv, and you can be responsible for the decorative pillows and irresistible wine glasses you’ve been lusting after for months. Either way, we would encourage our girlfriends to create a “Cohabitation Agreement” in which ownership of items acquired during the cohabitation are designated as “his” or “yours.” Of course, we know this isn’t the most romantic conversation you’ll have with Prince Charming, but it beats screaming at each other over who gets to keep the fish tank if things go sour. Bonus if you can determine who gets to stay at the home and who leaves (and how to resolve any rent or mortgage issues).
4. Will you have a joint bank account?And, will you have a joint credit card? Although this may seem like a convenient solution to the problem of who pays the bills and buys the groceries, beware. How much do you know about your man’s financial situation? If things turn nasty, he could run up the credit card bill or drain the bank account. Now we know that you absolutely trust Prince Charming, but remember that break ups can bring out the worst in people, and you don’t want to make a hard situation even harder.
5. House Rules.It may be good to begin with an overall plan for what you both want out of the house. Is cousin Vinny invited to pass out on the couch every Saturday night? Does his best friend get to play video games for hours in the basement because his wife doesn’t allow it? Is he amenable to your book club convening every other Thursday night?
6. And finally, where is this all going?Is this simply a means for sharing living expenses? Is it a trial for marriage in which you will take care of each other and stick out together through thick and thin? Or, is it more like a month-to-month rental agreement where as long as you behave yourself and keep your partner happy, he’ll stick around? Hopefully you and sweetie pie can make sure that you are on the same page before making this leap. Remember, when Barbie and Ken got married their biggest wedding gift was the bundle of rights and benefits bestowed on them by the simple act of “getting married.” In Michigan, there is no other way of getting that gift unless you replicate some of them by additional, private agreements. This is because Michigan has eliminated the infamous common law marriage by statute, and no period of cohabitation will result in marriage.
Of course, we hope that your man proves to be the dreamboat that you think he is, that he picks up his socks, and that he puts the toilet seat down. We hope that you two live happily ever after, have 2.5 kids and put up a white picket fence. BUT as the smart, responsible woman that you are, please don’t get swept up in the moment. Protect yourself, because sometimes Prince Charming turns out to be just another frog.
Raquel Salas and Elizabeth Lueder are attorneys with Avanti Law firm. Visit avantilaw.com to learn more.