Mediate the Terms of Arizona Cohabitation Agreements

Between 1990 and 2007, there has been an 85 percent increase in the number of cohabitating but unmarried couples.  U.S. Census Bureau. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007.”  When embarking on a cohabitation relationship, many people do not realize that they may later have legal battles over undefined rights and obligations.  Because the couples are not married, the property division laws that protect divorcing couples do not apply.
Almost half of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) recently polled stated that they have noticed an increase in the amount of legal battles resulting from cohabitating couples.  AAML, February 2011. Battles can include rights regarding the division of houses purchased, as well as the division of other property and even pets acquired by the couple.  For example, it is not uncommon for both parties to contribute to the purchase and maintenance of a house that is in one party’s name.  Both parties expect to have equal rights to the home but, absent proof of an agreement, only one party may have a recognized legal right.

To prevent future conflict, some cohabitants are choosing to enter into binding Cohabitation Agreements, which are like prenuptial agreements for unmarried couples.  Parties can pre-determine the division of property and debts in the case that their relationship ends.  Cohabitants can even define their respective rights and obligations during the relationship.  The Agreement could also include terms of support, insurance and medical decisions.  Thirty-nine percent of AAML members who responded to a recent survey have seen an increase in these agreements during the timer period cohabitation numbers have increased.  Id.   Cohabitation Agreements, like prenuptial agreements, may seem “unromantic.”  However, by addressing issues in advance, cohabitants are intelligently avoiding conflict and potential litigation .
Cohabitants can mediate the terms of the Cohabitation Agreement.  Mediation allows parties to discuss potentially sensitive issues in a comfortable, confidential and neutral environment with the help of a mediator, trained in conflict resolution.  While the cohabitants should still take the agreement reached in mediation to independent lawyers to ensure that the agreement is fair and binding, by working through a mediator, they foster cooperation and the goal of working together toward the couple’s common future.
Alona M. Gottfried is a family law mediator and attorney in Arizona.  If you have questions about mediation, she can be reached at: 480-998-1500 or  This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be legal advice.  See a legal professional before making legal decisions.

Simmons & Gottfried, PLLC
8160 E. Butherus Dr., Suite #7
Scottsdale, AZ 85260

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