Family & Relationships

What to Do Before Moving in Together

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A lot more people are living together before marriage (or instead of marriage) these days. In 2016, about 18 million people lived with an unmarried partner. That’s a 29 percent increase since 2007.1

Although moving in with your partner isn’t as legally binding as marriage, it’s still a big step — and one that can be emotionally and financially hard to unwind if things don’t work out well. That’s why it’s wise to have some honest discussions before moving in with your boyfriend or girlfriend.

Determine why you are moving in together.

In most cases, couples move in together to spend more time with each other and to take their relationship to a new level. Sometimes, though, it seems to make more sense from a financial perspective.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to save money, of course. But moving in with a romantic partner involves a lot of emotional considerations that generally aren’t factors with a non-romantic roommate situation. So be honest with each other up front and consider other options to save money if the motivation of one (or both) of you is primarily financial.

Have "the money talk."

Speaking of finances, money can be a major source of conflict for couples. You’re essentially melding two lifestyles (and budgets) under one roof. One way to minimize those conflicts is to discuss finances well in advance of move-in day. Discuss how you’ll handle different types of expenses, including:

  • Rent/mortgage payments.
  • Utilities.
  • TV and/or internet service.
  • Groceries.
  • Maintenance/repairs.

In addition to discussing how you’ll share costs, talk with your partner about your overall financial situation. Although the conversation may feel a bit awkward at first, getting on the same page regarding your finances could help you minimize “money fights” down the road.

For example, you should each share details on your income, expenses, debts and any previous money problems (including bankruptcy). Also, talk about how much you’re comfortable spending on housing. If you have specific financial goals for which you’re saving, mention those as well.

Consider a cohabitation agreement.

Most of us have heard of a “prenup,” or prenuptial agreement. It’s a contract a couple executes before a marriage to determine the division of assets, spousal support and other issues in the event of a divorce.

A cohabitation agreement is basically a prenup for couples who are living together. In some ways, it’s even more important than a prenup. That’s because there are already marital laws in place in the event of a divorce. But if a couple who is living together break up, there are no marital laws to apply. That can lead to long and pricey legal battles — especially if the couple purchased a home or have children together.

A cohabitation agreement can address:

  • Financial provisions (similar to spousal support).
  • How property will be divided.
  • Custody and support of children.
  • Custody and support of pets.

Create a will and power of attorney.

Since people who live together don’t have many of the legal protections and rights as married couples, wills and powers of attorney (financial and health care) are very important. If one partner passes away, for instance, the other partner might not be entitled to any part of the estate unless there’s a will in place that specifies what the surviving partner should receive.

Be aware of lease options.

If you and your partner are renting a home such as an apartment, condo, house, etc., make sure you both understand how leases work. This can help to protect you both. For example, if you both sign the lease, you’re legally cotenants and in this situation, you both have the same legal rights and responsibilities in terms of the lease. Keep in mind, however, in a cotenant situation, the landlord can legally hold both cotenants responsible for the actions of one. So even if just one of you violates the lease, you can both be evicted.

If only one of you signs the lease, it’s a different ballgame. Let’s say you signed the lease, but your partner didn’t. In this case, the partner is a “subtenant” and doesn’t have the same rights and responsibilities in terms of the lease. This can be risky for you, because you’re the only person on the hook for rent, damages and other costs under the lease.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst

Cohabitation can be a wonderful step for a relationship. Having honest discussions and making contingency plans in advance can help you remove potential roadblocks — and give you peace of mind in case the relationship doesn’t end up as you’d hoped.

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