At the final court hearing in a divorce case, the judge generally pronounces that the divorce agreement is fair and reasonable and then s/he blesses it with an official imprimatur.
In the next sentence, more times than not, I have heard judges then say, “You can remarry in 90 days.” Invariably, the divorcing couple responds with an eye roll as if to say, “That’s the last thing on our minds!”
But, fast forward two years down the road. Time heals a lot of wounds and you may find that you are in a meaningful relationship that lies somewhere between not being ready for remarriage but ready to commit to the relationship.
Let’s suppose you have met someone, you have dated for months, and you now are thinking it would be nice to combine households and try cohabitation after divorce. It seems like a great alternative for a variety of reasons. First, living together is cost-efficient – there will be only one rent or mortgage payment to be responsible for, only one set of utility bills, and only one obligation for property taxes and household insurance. Second, living together offers you an avenue for testing the relationship under real-life conditions without the permanency that comes with marriage. And, third, living together provides you with the opportunity to grow closer as a couple.
But you’re gun-shy because of everything you have been through in your divorce. Once burned, twice shy. Do you have any alternatives? Can you have some built-in protections to help allay your misgivings? You want something like a prenuptial agreement, but since you are not getting married, you cannot enter into that type of contract.
Consider a co-tenancy agreement when choosing cohabitation after divorce
What can a co-tenancy agreement do for you if you decide on cohabitation after divorce? Whether you are renting with your significant other or buying a house together (or even if your partner is just moving in with you, or vice versa), a co-tenancy agreement is essentially a contract that lays out with specificity ownership interests, what happens if the relationship breaks up, and what happens when the roof needs to be replaced.
A co-tenancy agreement can be as detailed, or as streamlined, as you and your partner would like. It can cover just the essentials – such as who is making the down payment, who is going to be on the mortgage, who is going to be on the deed, what will happen if someone defaults on mortgage payments, and what will happen if you disagree about the timing of the sale of the property. (Although that seems like a lot to consider, it does not really cover the basics.)
Other co-tenancy agreements detail in what proportion the net proceeds from the sale of the house will be split once the house is sold, whether there will be a right of first refusal before the house is marketed publicly, how much each of you will contribute to household expenses, whether you will use a joint bank account for common expenditures, who the bill payer will be – and that is just scratching the surface of all the provisions you can include with specificity.
If you have been through divorce, you know the expense and heartache involved
Protecting yourself in advance with a co-tenancy agreement can be a very practical and relatively inexpensive option to add needed safeguards. Moreover, it is a terrific opportunity for you and your significant other to consider in detail how your new household will operate, and it takes the guess-work out of unwinding your living arrangement if the relationship goes south. Research shows that those couples who are comfortable talking about financial matters have a leg up on others who shy away from discussing money matters.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the specifics you may want to consider in entering into a co-tenancy agreement. Speak with your lawyer about this option. It can turn an eye roll into your getting better shut-eye at night.