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Living Together

A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples

All the law cohabiting couples need to know

Find all the information and forms unmarried couples need to define and protect their relationship in the eyes of the law.  An essential resource for any unmarried couple, Living Together explains:

  • the legality of living together
  • having and raising children
  • the many types of ownership agreements

Includes all the legal forms you need!

  • Product Details
  • Laws that protect married couples—on property ownership, divorce, inheritance rights, and more—don’t apply to unmarried couples.
    To define and protect your relationship—and your assets—you need to take specific legal steps and use the right documents.

    Whether you’re just starting out or are one of the growing number of older couples who choose to live together, this revised edition of Living Together has the information you need. It covers all the big issues facing unmarried couples living together, including:

    Money and Property

    Clarify how you'll share money and other assets.

    Estate Planning

    Leave your assets to whomever you wish, including children from a prior marriage.

    Breaking Up

    Divide property and share child custody fairly


    Protect your kids by confirming that you are their legal parents.

    The House

    If you buy a house together, spell out ownership shares in writing.

    Medical Decisions

    Make important medical decisions for each other if necessary.

    “Here’s what you need to know to prevent surprises that can be both expensive and nasty.”
    -Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine

    “Provides lots of practical advice and also includes information about various state laws relating to unmarried couples.”
    -Washington Post

    “A detailed and useful guide for couples.”
    -Los Angeles Times

    Number of Pages
    Included Forms


    • Agreement of Joint Intent Not to Have a Common Law Marriage
    • Agreement to Keep Property Separate
    • Attachment A (Separately Owned Property)
    • Agreement to Share Property
    • Attachment B (Jointly Owned Property)
    • Agreement for a Joint Purchase
    • Agreement Covering Rented Living Space
    • Letter Requesting Permission to Add a Roommate
    • Contract for Equal Ownership of a House
    • Promissory Note
    • Contract for Unequal Ownership of a House
    • Agreement for One Person to Move Into the Other's House and Become an Immediate Co-Owner
    • Agreement for One Person to Move Into the Other's House and Become a Co-Owner Gradually
    • Acknowledgment of Parenthood
    • Short-Term Agreement Regarding Separation and Housing
    • Agreement to Protect Property During a Split-Up
    • Agreement to Mediate and Arbitrate
    • Home Buyout Agreement
  • About the Author
  • Table of Contents
  • 1. Living Together: The Legal Companion for Unmarried Couples

    2. The Legal State of Living Together

    • Sex and the Law
    • Domestic Partners
    • Common Law Marriage
    • Living Together Contracts
    • Why You Need to Put Your Living Together Agreement in Writing
    • What Happens to Your Written Living Together AgreementIf You Get Married?
    • Special Issues for Seniors

    3. Living Together Agreements: Why and How They Work

    • Ten Tips for Writing a Living Together Agreement
    • Property Agreements
    • Agreement to Share Ownership of a Joint Purchase
    • Agreement Covering Joint Projects
    • Agreement Covering Homemaker Services
    • Agreement for Artists, Writers, and Inventors
    • Agreement for People in School
    • Agreement to Protect Person Who Moves a Long Distance or Gives Up a Job

    4. Debt, Credit, Taxes, and More: Practical Aspects of Living Together

    • Debt and Credit
    • How (and Why) to Check Your Credit Report
    • Buying and Investing Together
    • Discrimination
    • Sharing Your Last Name
    • Income Taxes
    • Social Security
    • Retirement Plans
    • Public Benefits
    • Insurance
    • Liability for Medical Care of a Partner
    • Making Medical and Financial Decisions for Your Partner
    • Wrongful Death and Loss of Consortium Lawsuits

    5. Renting and Sharing a Home

    • Discrimination on the Basis of Marital Status
    • Leases and Rental Agreements
    • Moving In Together
    • Dealing With Objections When Moving Into the Rental Home of One Partner
    • Getting Your Security Deposit Back

    6. Buying a House Together

    • May Sellers Discriminate Against Unmarried Buyers?
    • How to Find and Work With a Real Estate Agent
    • Househunting Online
    • Home Financing and Mortgages
    • Proceeding With Your Purchase: Offers, Inspections, Escrow, and Closing
    • Taking Title to Your New Home
    • Contracts for Couples Owning a Home Together
    • Contracts for Equal Ownership of a House
    • Contract for Unequal Ownership of a House
    • Agreement for One Person to Move Into the Other’s House and Become an Immediate Co-Owner
    • Agreement for One Person to Move Into the Other’s House and Become a Co-Owner Gradually

    7. Starting a Family

    • Having a Child: Legal Obligations of Unmarried Parents
    • Naming the Baby and Getting a Birth Certificate
    • Naming the Father: Paternity
    • Legitimacy of Children Born to Unmarried Parents
    • Adopting a Child
    • Public and Private Benefits for a Child of Unmarried Parents
    • Inheritance Rights of a Child of Unmarried Parents

    8. You and Your Ex-Spouse and Children From a Prior Relationship

    • Getting a Divorce While Living With Someone Else
    • Living Together and Impact on Custody of Children From a Prior Marriage
    • Visitation With Children From a Prior Marriage
    • Child Support for Children From a Prior Marriage
    • The Effect of Living Together on Alimony and Child Support From a Prior Marriage

    9. Wills and Estate Planning

    • What Happens If You Don’t Do Any Estate Planning?
    • Typical Estate Plans
    • Figuring Out What You Own: Taking Inventory
    • An Introduction to Wills
    • Avoiding Probate
    • Estate and Gift Taxes
    • Balancing the Needs of Your Partner and Your Children
    • Funerals and Other Final Arrangements

    10. Moving On—When Unmarried Couples Separate

    • Rules of the Unmarried Dissolution
    • The Process of Separation
    • Ten Steps to Resolving Your Conflicts
    • Mediation, Arbitration, and Other Ways to Resolve Disputes
    • Lawyers and Lawsuits: Going to Court
    • Solutions for Typical Property Division Problems
    • Tenants: Who Gets the Rental?
    • Homeowners: Dividing the House
    • Putting It All Together: Preparing a Settlement Agreement
    • Children: Custody, Visitation, and Suppor

    11. Lawyers and Legal Research

    • When to Hire a Lawyer
    • How to Find a Good Lawyer


    • How to Use the Downloadable Forms on the Nolo Website
    • Editing RTFs
    • List of Forms Available on the Nolo Website


  • Sample Chapter
  • Chapter 1:
    Living Together: The Legal Companion for Unmarried Couples

    Living together has never been more popular. According to the 2016 Census data, over 8.07 million unmarried couples live together (which translates into roughly 16 million people). This is a 20% increase over the 2007 figures (6.4 million couples) and a 52% increase over the 2000 figures (3.8 million couples). Today, more than 62% of unmarried households have children.

    Cohabitors also are an older crowd now, and the number of cohabiting seniors tripled since 1990 and is continuing to rise. The average American spends the majority of his or her life unmarried.

    If you are part of an unmarried couple living together, it’s probably comforting to know that you are far from alone. However, this doesn’t mean that you can ignore how the law affects your relationship, especially if you are buying a house together.

    This book will help. It explains the wide range of legal and practical rules that affect unmarried couples living together—from sharing money and property (contract law) to owning a house together (real estate law) or sharing an apartment (landlord-tenant law) to having a child with your partner (family law) to writing a will (estate planning).

    Same-sex couples. If you are part of a gay or lesbian couple living together, see the Nolo books A Legal Guide for Lesbian & Gay Couples and Making It Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnerships & Civil Unions, both by Frederick Hertz and Emily Doskow, available at While most of the legal issues are the same as those facing opposite-sex couples, the history of marriage and domestic partnership has created some unique legal problems for same-sex couples.

    Legal rules that affect unmarried couples living together. When you understand the law, you and your partner can make informed decisions about how to structure your life, finances, property ownership, and family relationships to best meet your needs. Failing to learn about the law and take measures to protect yourself and your partner can have negative consequences. The special rules governing married couples (such as those relating to property ownership, divorce, and inheritance rights, to name a few) don’t apply to unmarried couples. In order to compensate for this, you’ll have to do some extra work. For example, you may want to write a will to ensure that your partner gets your property when you die, sign paternity statements to ensure that a father’s parental rights are preserved, or create a “living together contract” to avoid protracted court battles over property if you split up. These burdens apply to couples who are cohabiting as a prelude to marriage, as well as to those who view their arrangement as a long-term alternative to marriage. It’s especially important to have an agreement when some or all of the major assets, such as a house, are titled in only one partner’s name.

    Important legal agreements and forms. To help you, we provide over a dozen written documents that unmarried couples can use to spell out their individual legal and financial arrangements, as well as detailed discussions of relevant legal forms, including:

    • living together contracts regarding your money and property—whether you want to keep everything separate, pool all assets, or something in between (such as share ownership of a car)
    • house ownership agreements—whether you’re sharing costs and ownership equally or not
    • basic wills and estate planning forms
    • parenting agreements, paternity statements, and other documents relating to children you have together (or bring into your relationship from a previous marriage), and
    • property settlement agreements for use in the event you separate.

    Each form is easy to customize and has complete instructions, and there are filled-in samples in the text. You’ll find downloadable copies
    of the forms on the companion page for this book on the Nolo website (purchase book for details).

    What’s in a Name?

    One of the common issues faced by unmarried couples is how to introduce each other in a way that reflects the importance of your relationship—boyfriend/girlfriend, special friend, significant other, lover, or even POSSLQ (Person of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters, an earlier Census Bureau phrase for heterosexual couples who live together without getting married)—the choice is yours. Because “partner” is one of the most commonly used and neutral terms, we use it throughout this book to refer to one member of an unmarried couple.


    We believe that most unmarried couples can safely and easily master the majority of legal rules that affect them. However, it’s also true that an experienced lawyer’s advice can be invaluable when it comes to dealing with more complicated situations. We’ll point out how and when a lawyer’s expertise can be helpful—for example, if one of you has children or substantial assets, if one of you isn’t on the title to a shared house, or if you’re dealing with complicated estate planning.

    Why live together and not get married? There are many reasons why people choose to live together without getting married. Some don’t see the need for the state’s approval of their commitment to each other. Many couples view it as a trial period before marriage. Some avoid marriage because they have gone through a messy divorce. Many people, especially in expensive urban areas with high unemployment rates, often live with partners in order to reduce housing costs. And others simply don’t want to be bothered with joint liability or higher income taxes.

    Special concerns for seniors. The fast-increasing number of unmarried couples over age 45 who live together—over one-fifth of all unmarried couples fall into this category—often have financial and family concerns that come into play. For example, by not marrying, they don’t become legally obligated for their partner’s medical expenses, and they reduce the risk of paying tax on Social Security benefits. And by not marrying, many avoid tricky inheritance issues if one or both partners have adult children from a previous marriage or own substantial assets.

    One of the most common reasons older couples choose to live together instead of marrying is to avoid joint liability for debts, especially for long-term care or medical bills. Staying unmarried also enables each partner to qualify individually for public benefits, such as Medicaid, without draining the other partner’s resources. There are detailed rules about how these arrangements must be structured to avoid inadvertent triggering of joint liability, so if you are considering such a strategy, consult with an attorney specializing in elder law before you make any big decisions.

    And for some folks, staying unmarried allows them to live together without making a major legal or social commitment, which is psychologically preferable for one or both partners. As has been well documented, getting married doesn’t mean the relationship will last forever, but that’s how it feels to many partners—and it’s a feeling that they don’t feel entirely comfortable about. Older partners may be concerned about the reactions of their friends and children, and they may prefer to cohabit informally rather than suggest to anyone that their new relationship is as important as their former marriage was. And, not surprisingly, the reasons folks give for staying unmarried aren’t often the full story.

    Whatever your reasons for not marrying, this book arms you with information to tackle most of the legal issues that arise during unmarried partnerships, including managing your financial affairs better, protecting your assets, buying a house or other property together, having or coparenting children, addressing the concerns of your adult children, planning for your death, and dealing with a breakup.

    Check out the Alternatives to Marriage Project. This national organization formerly provided resources, support, and advocacy for unmarried people living together and now offers a resource guide and ongoing information for unmarried couples. For more information, check out

  • Forms
  • This Book Comes With a Website

    Nolo’s award-winning website has a page dedicated just to this book, where you can:

    DOWNLOAD FORMS - All forms in this book are accessible online. After purchase, you can find a link to the URL in Appendix A.

    KEEP UP TO DATE - When there are important changes to the information in this book, we will post updates

    And that’s not all. contains thousands of articles on everyday legal and business issues, plus a plain-English law dictionary, all written by Nolo experts and available for free. You’ll also find more useful books, software, online services, and downloadable forms.


7 Reviews
5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star

Helpful downloadable house buying contract

By Beth E.

I downloaded the contract for use by friends buying a house together. It was a helpful start. After my friend fills in his preferences, we'll send it off to an attorney to make sure that state law won't overrule any of our items.

Posted on 11/28/2020


By Richard P.


Posted on 11/12/2020


By Doreen G.

Very helpful, good information.

Posted on 9/24/2020


By William B.

valuable insights - thank you

Posted on 7/16/2020


By Pamela P.

Full of helpful info.

Posted on 7/16/2020

Highly Recommend!!!

By Amy C.

This book is truly FANTASTIC!!! I have recommended it to all my unmarried friends in serious relationships. My boyfriend and I recently purchased a house and were interested in getting some guidance about how best to put my name on the title and what sort of contracts we wanted to have for ourselves. The book provided great contract templates and lots of interesting information.

Posted on 7/16/2020

Well worth the small price

By P H.

Working out legal issues for this section of the population is important and confusing. In the book I either found an exact example of issues and answer, or was led to more research I didn't know I needed to do. The included forms are very helpful, too.

Posted on 7/16/2020

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