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Creating A Foundation for Cohabitation

You are in a committed relationship.  You and your significant other desire to live together but are not ready for or interested in marriage.  You decide to rent or purchase a property together, or to move into a place one of you currently rents or owns.  You are in good company, joining over eight million cohabiting couples in the United States. 

Research has revealed that most couples “fall into” or “slide into” living together.  For the majority of couples, there is little extended discussion about the why or how of cohabitation.  Thus, it is not surprising that slightly over half of couples living together terminate their relationship within two years of moving in together.  Many end in turmoil, not only from the loss of the significant other, but also from the anxiety and rancor resulting from the absence of advance discussion or pre-planning concerning what happens in the event of a split.  Others end because the stress and conflicts of living together are is too great. Many of these conflicts may have been avoided with mindful and collaborative anticipatory discussions and mutual understandings.  

Moving in with someone is not to be taken lightly.  There are a host of issues to be considered.  Among the most significant, but by no means the only topics couples should discuss in advance include:

How will you structure your responsibilities? 
How will you manage the finances of living together?  Is everything split equally?
If you co-sign a lease, what happens if the relationship ends before the lease ends? 
If only one of you is on the lease, what happens to each of you if the other wants to leave?  What if the signor wants to end the relationship? 
If you break up, what happens to real and/or personal property you purchase together? 
Will you have joint bank and/or utility accounts?  Joint credit cards?  Who will be responsible for the liabilities on these accounts if your relationship ends?
Will you share a vehicle?  A pet? 
Is all space shared or is there any “private” space? 
Can either of you invite friends over any time, or will you discuss social visits in advance? 

If one of you has children, or you have children while living together, there are, of course, many other important issues to consider.

Many of these issues are not unique to couples living together.  It would be equally prudent for two or more friends sharing a home, condo or apartment to contemplate and come to mutual understandings regarding important considerations.

Mediation offers cohabiting couples and/or friends an opportunity to discuss in advance what the participants would like living together to look like, to anticipate concerns, to consider financial obligations, to discuss day-to-day responsibilities for the living space, and to agree ahead of time what who will be responsible for what, both during and at the end of a period of cohabitation.  

Whether a couple is cohabitating or a group of young post-grads are sharing an apartment, these relationships and/or living arrangement can change quickly and unexpectedly.  A girlfriend is blindsided by her boyfriend’s sudden desire to break up; a friend decides to move out in two weeks so he or she can move in with a significant other; close friends part ways, someone loses a job and can no longer afford the rent; a sudden and serious illness in one’s immediate family requires one to move; a roommate receives the last spot on a wait list for medical school; a significant other is told she is being transferred to her company’s headquarters on the opposite coast in a month.  The reasons are legion, the results familiar.  Without a plan, when shared living relationships end, turmoil often begins.

Consider these three different scenarios.

Jess and Mike have been together for three years.  While they plan to eventually marry, like many couples, they want to live together now. Why should they each rent when they end up together almost every night?  Jess rents an apartment and Mike moves in.  Mike pays half the monthly rent and related expenses, but is not on the lease.  Jess buys a dog that Mike cares for and adores.  Two years later, Jess tells Mike she’s no longer sure of the relationship and Mike needs to move out next week.   Mike has no right to the apartment, and they never discussed what would happen if their relationship ended.

Ron and Aaron became roommates during graduate school.  While not close friends, they sometimes socialized together and had a workable roommate relationship.  When their roommate relationship began to deteriorate, they sought out mediation to address how they would manage their shared financial obligations for the duration of their lease.  Through mediation, they reached agreements regarding payment of the remaining rent, the disposition of furnishings purchased jointly, and how they would communicate moving forward.

Greg and Sonya have been dating for six years and plan to move in together shortly.  Having seen the relationships of many friends seriously challenged by living together, Sonya asked Greg to enter mediation in order to consider in advance how to best structure their cohabitation relationship. Sonya and Greg agreed on a shared housing budget, geographic search radius, criteria for selection, financial and housing obligations in the event of a break up, and shared responsibilities for care of an apartment.

Mediation can be of great value for cohabiting couples or friends.  Mediation provides a safe and confidential space, with a neutral and impartial third party, in which to discuss issues of mutual concern regarding living together, and to pre-plan for various contingencies.   Through mediation, you can develop a plan to support a successful cohabitation relationship.


Halee Burg

Halee Burg has been mediating elder, adult sibling and family issues since 2011.  Halee's experience working with elders as an ombudsman in a nursing home community, as well as addressing challenging caregiving issues in her own family, enable her to better understand the challenges families face and the multiple interests and… MORE >

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