Tag Archive for: cohabitation

Traditionally, American couples got married, lived together, and when they had enough money, they bought a house. However, the country is constantly changing. Now fewer couples are getting married, but people still want to buy a home. If you and your partner plan to purchase one without getting married and want legal protection if the relationship ends, a cohabitation agreement is worth considering. We have helped many couples in the Greater Philadelphia area put together cohabitation agreements.  

Fewer Marriages, More Demand for Houses 

Marriage rates have generally declined from 1982 to 2009, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They stabilized from 2009 to 2017 but dropped again during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Meanwhile, people are eager to buy houses. The inventory of houses for sale can’t keep up with demand and prices are moving skyward. The median house price in Bucks County in February 2018 was $277,250. Four years later it’s up to $400,000, according to Redfin. Currently, the average time a Bucks County house is on the market is three weeks. 

State Statutes Cover Married Homeowners. Contracts Can Cover Homeowners Who are Not Married

Under Pennsylvania statutory law, if you’re married, buy a house, then divorce, your marital assets and debts are divided. If you’re not married, you can use contract law, through a cohabitation agreement, to do the same whether you’re of the same or opposite sexes. Without marriage, there aren’t statutes you can rely upon to fairly resolve shared housing issues if the relationship ends. 

Such an agreement can include many things, but topics that could be covered include: 

  • Assets like real estate, bank accounts, and vehicles 
  • Debts such as the mortgage, car loans, student loans, and credit card debts 
  • How housing-related bills and obligations will be paid 
  • What will happen if one or both of you become unemployed or too disabled to work 
  • Whether each party will obtain life insurance with the other party as a beneficiary so their share of the mortgage can be paid if they die unexpectedly 
  • How the home is titled  
  • How the home and property (including household goods and furnishings) will be split if the relationship ends 
  • What happens if a party breaches the agreement 

What’s in a cohabitation agreement is up to the parties, but an experienced attorney can suggest language that’s needed to protect your interests. 

An Oral Agreement May be Valid, But Proving It May Be Difficult 

If the two of you make a verbal agreement on splitting mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, and maintenance, it may or may not be legally binding. More importantly, it’s generally much more difficult to prove one was made and, if so, its terms. You may claim the two of you agreed. Your partner may deny it. Without further proof, your claim will go nowhere. 

A written agreement is literally on paper, in black and white, signed by both parties, with the terms spelled out. One party could claim it’s invalid (because you engaged in fraud to induce them to agree to it or because performing the contract is impossible), but when both parties are represented by attorneys and the agreement is negotiated in good faith, establishing that should be very difficult. 

A Cohabitation Agreement May Only Be the Beginning 

If you share not only a house but have children together too, you should also have child custody and support agreements even if you’re on “good terms” on these issues. Situations change, so it’s best to work these issues out now in case the relationship ends in the future and the parties become angry and emotional. 

Get the Help You Need From an Attorney You Can Trust 

If you have questions about a cohabitation agreement or want help putting one together, use our online calendar to schedule a free consultation or call us at (215) 752-6200.

Both cohabitation and remarriage are grounds for termination of alimony in Pennsylvania. In the case of remarriage, a court-ordered alimony award is terminated automatically upon the receiving spouse’s remarriage. However, if the couple settled outside of court, the divorce settlement must include a statement terminating alimony upon remarriage in order for it to end. Most divorce agreements in PA do include such a provision.

Cohabitation will also terminate court-ordered alimony, but it must be proven. Cohabitation in PA is recognized when a person is living with someone of the opposite sex who is not a close relative, demonstrates evidence of romantic or sexual relationship, and comingles assets or finances, thus approximating marriage.

If you believe your ex-spouse to whom you pay alimony is cohabiting and therefore believe your alimony should be terminated, you need to petition the court for an order to terminate alimony. File a motion in the court that handed down your divorce decree and be prepared to present evidence and witnesses in court to support your claim.

In order to gather evidence, look for pictures on social media or talk to friends or neighbors. You may have to hire a private detective who knows how to legally collect evidence of cohabitation – this may include surveillance, collection of documentation, and getting subpoenas to collect records. Our article Proving your Spouse is Cohabiting goes into more detail on this.

When you suspect your ex is living with someone and doesn’t deserve alimony anymore, it’s important to do a cost-benefit analysis. Consider the court and legal fees, the cost of hiring a private investigator, the time and effort associated with collection and court appearances, and the possible damage to relationships with friends and family. If your monthly alimony payment is not very large or burdensome and is awarded for a limited time, you know exactly how much alimony will cost you and can easily compare. You may find it’s not worth the expense or effort. If, however, your alimony payments are large or have no termination date stipulated by the court, you may determine it is worth the effort.

Child support is not automatically affected by termination of alimony. However, if you feel the cohabiting arrangement is not in the best interests of your children, you may wish to petition the courts for modification of custody.

 

These are decisions best reviewed with an expert in divorce law. if you suspect your ex-spouse is cohabitating, contact us here at Ulmer Law so we can help you determine the best approach regarding alimony and child custody.

Alimony is support paid to an ex-spouse following the divorce decree. The amount of alimony is largely based on the incomes of the parties but may also be affected by the distribution of the other assets, if any. Unless otherwise stated by agreement, alimony may be subsequently modified due the changed circumstances of either party. The changes must be substantial and of a continuing nature. Generally, the length of alimony is directly attributable to the length of the marriage such that the longer the marriage, the longer the term of alimony one may expect.

In Pennsylvania, alimony will terminate upon remarriage or cohabitation of the party receiving alimony with an unrelated partner. It may be difficult to prove there is in fact a cohabitation relationship as the party seeking to terminate alimony. Case law establishes that you need to show more than just some overnight visits. Starting points may include if both the party receiving alimony and their partner receive mail at the same address, if any utilities for the home are in their name, or if they have been added to the lease or mortgage. A private investigator may also be utilized to observe the comings and goings and report back as to whether the parties staying together is a regular occurrence as opposed to an occasional visit. This option can become very expensive since you will need to hire the investigator over a period of time to establish a pattern of conduct.

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Potential reconciliation between parties going through a divorce can have an impact on the course of the divorce. Specifically, if a party is pursuing a divorce on the grounds of two-year separation, a reconciliation may result in a new date of separation date and hence a new two-year waiting period. Case law has distinguished what actions/behavior will be considered a successful reconciliation, hence tolling a new period of separation, versus those actions/behavior that will not change the initial separation date. Separation for the purposes of divorce is defined as the “complete cessation of any and all cohabitation.” Cohabitation, though not specifically defined in the divorce code, is generally understood to be living and dwelling together as husband and wife with the mutual assumption of all marital rights, duties and obligations. It requires more than just remaining in the same house overnight or for the weekend or taking a week long trip together. This is still true even if the parties engage in sexual relations. Instances of sexual relations during a separation will not alone establish a reconciliation. The public policy of the Commonwealth is to encourage a reconciliation where possible and so it is reluctant to punish parties for unsuccessful reconciliations by causing the period of separation to have to start again because of a failed attempt.

In Thomas v. Thomas, 335 Pa. Super. 41 (1984), the Court expressed its agreement with neighboring states who treat the issue of reconciliation similarly. For example, in a New Jersey case the court held that a four week trial reconciliation period did not defeat the previously established separation date (Brittner v. Brittner, 124 N.J. Super. 259 (1973)). In Delaware, the law provides that any reconciliation attempts that occur prior to the 30 days immediately preceding the hearing on divorce will not affect the initial date of separation. Accordingly, attempts at reconciliation may not necessarily change the date of separation for the purposes of the divorce. The court would examine the facts of the reconciliation to determine if it was a full-blown resumption of the marital relationship which would potentially result in a different date of separation or alternatively, treat the failed attempt as further evidence that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the divorce should proceed on the initial separation date. In Britton v. Britton, 400 Pa. Super. 43 (1990) a reconciliation did defeat the period of separation when the reconciliation lasted three months, the parties resumed living together, ceased to maintain separate residences, jointly purchased a townhome, shared the same bedroom, engaged in sexual relations, shared a joint bank account and had a social life as husband and wife.

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