Though same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in Virginia for several years, many couples prefer to remain unmarried for a variety of reasons. However, if such a relationship comes to an end, it may be difficult for either partner to obtain a legal basis for financial support. Thus, it is important for cohabiting couples to arrive at a legal agreement regarding each person’s obligations, financial and otherwise, within the relationship.

According to Huffington Post, the number of couples—both heterosexual and same-sex—who are opting to live together without marrying is on the rise, and so is the number of legal disputes among these couples. Like married spouses, these partners may pour time, work and money into the relationship with the expectation of reciprocation over the long term.

However committed each partner may be, it is unwise to make unspoken assumptions about the other person’s contributions and actions during or after the relationship. A contract may provide legal protection for both partners’ assets in case of a separation. Furthermore, such agreements ensure that each person understands the other’s expectations going into the relationship and minimize the likelihood of unpleasant financial shocks if the live-in arrangement comes to an end.

Before creating a cohabitation agreement, it is important for both partners to have a clear picture of their own finances and to communicate clearly with each other regarding the contents of the contract. Many couples choose to seek legal advice when creating such agreements in the face of the complexities of estate dispersal, taxation and other issues that may arise for unmarried, cohabiting partners.

The Virginia State Bar emphasizes that marriage is one of the best legal arrangements to ensure spousal support. Cohabitation, by contrast, guarantees no such support in the event of a separation. Couples who cohabitate but remain unmarried must draw up a contract specifying financial arrangements, expectations of support and other guidelines if they wish their agreement to be legally enforceable upon separation. Even informal agreements may be legitimate in the eyes of the court.