Not everyone likes to think of it that way, but a personal, committed relationship—whether living together or in marriage—is also a business relationship. It creates a community which needs to be administered just like any business.
If living together, there needs to be a cohabitation agreement before it starts. It can be verbal or in writing and can be amended or changed, but it needs an agreed-upon starting point.
If you’re living together, you will benefit by having an agreement in writing and/or looked over by an attorney. If you’re getting married, particularly at a middle or later age where there are some assets, it is smart to have a pre-nuptial agreement.
Neither of these documents takes anything away from the care and affection you feel for your partner. As a matter of fact, it can avoid a lot of disappointment and tension that can easily arise if you haven’t settled on the shared responsibilities—or don’t always clearly remember all the details of what you may have discussed.
Here’s an outline of how Gabriele and I agreed on what to include in our joint/ community expenses:
Auto and home insurance
Rent or mortgage payments
Cleaning and laundry
Medical costs and insurance
This is best handled through a separate, joint bank account. The contribution by each partner can be determined by each person’s relative income or assets, or any other formula you agree on.
A lawyer-drafted co-hab agreement may not have all the details outlined above, but it will include a formula for contributions of shared expenses and memorialize some general provisions, i.e., separate and joint property, separate obligations, waiver of estate rights, and arbitration of any disputes.
In addition to what maybe in a formal agreement, there needs to be a discussion and agreement on responsibilities. Here again is how we divide responsibilities:
Empty the dishwasher
Take out the garbage
Get and distribute the mail
Make dinner reservations
Secure take-out dinners
My breakfast and lunch
Banking and bookkeeping
This isn’t all fixed in cement. Depending on available time and schedules, we often pick up the other partner’s responsibility. If Gabriele was busy I did some food shopping, as an example.
You, of course, don’t have to follow this model. You can create any set of community expenses and responsibilities you both agree on.
The advantage of having these kinds of agreements is the conversations which lead up to the documents. You don’t have to rely on your memory because sometimes it may fail you. It can avoid disagreements and unfulfilled expectations. It brings out into the open how the participants expect to live together. Without these conversations and agreements, you are opening yourselves up to a heating pressure cooker.
Both agreements will also insure against the concern and possible agitation of children and/or parents about the responsibilities of the participants, particularly if one of the partners is incapacitated or passes away.
The details of our agreements were ours. The details of your agreement can be anything you mutually agree on.