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Marriage, divorce and cohabitation agreements in New York

At the end of September 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo and his longtime girlfriend, Sandra Lee, announced they were calling it quits. News of the breakup came on the heels of the couple's decision to sell their jointly-owned $2 million estate in New Castle, New York. While high-profile splits are always fodder in gossip columns and on social media, the Cuomo matter is instructive to unmarried couples who live together. 

While it is unclear whether Governor Cuomo and Ms. Lee had a cohabitation agreement, unmarried individuals often execute such agreements when they purchase property together. If you have a cohabitation agreement or ever think about drafting one, you should understand a few things about this type of contract. You should also realize the effect of a marriage or divorce on your cohabitation agreement. 

Contracts 

With few exceptions, adults enjoy wide latitude to contract with others. Because cohabitation agreements are contracts, yours must comply with contract law. Specifically, it must be clear, consensual and signed. These contracts include a variety of provisions that should address what happens to the jointly owned property in the event of a breakup. 

Marriage 

Cohabitation agreements typically protect the ownership interests of unmarried couples. If you choose to marry your partner, though, your cohabitation agreement is likely to become invalid. That is, upon marriage, you can take advantage of legal protections available to married individuals. A legal contract itself, your marriage supersedes your cohabitation agreement.

Divorce 

If your divorce was amicable, you may choose not to immediately sell the home you own with your spouse. However, if there are any mortgages on the property, this debt will affect your ability to get credit.

As you can see, cohabitation agreements benefit unmarried spouses who own property together in many ways. If you ever think about purchasing a home with your partner, drafting a well-written cohabitation agreement makes good sense and establishes solid footing for your happily-ever-after.

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