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Cohabitation Challenges:
Protecting Minor Children

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2017 about seven percent of children in the U.S. are living with cohabiting parents. With more than five million minor children living with cohabiting parents, issues of income stability, custody and inheritance have likewise increased.

The issues are only magnified by the fact that cohabiting relationships tend to be less long-lasting than married relationships. Children of cohabiting parents tend to be adversely affected, when it comes to separation or death of a biological or non-biological parent.

Breaking Up

In the U.S., cohabiting individuals are treated as strangers under the law. What if the two of you break up, but only one of you has a biological tie to a minor child and the other does not. What happens to the family relationships? Barring a second-parent adoption, the non-biological parent may have no right to see the child or otherwise participate in the child’s life. This can be emotionally damaging to the child, who may have a strong connection with the non-biological parent.

To lessen the emotional turmoil of a cohabiting parent breakup, where one parent is not a biologic parent, consider second-parent adoptions, if available in your state, or a co-parenting agreement that takes into account custody and support.

On the other hand, if both cohabiting parents are biologically related to the minor child, standard child-custody laws apply. If the two of you cannot agree to a co-parenting plan, you may ask a judge to determine custody, support and visitation arrangements.

Death of Partner

One of the biggest issues that comes up in cohabiting families is that of inheritances. This is especially true, when a non-biological parent is involved. For example, say that you and your partner co-parented a son who is biologically related to you, but not your partner. If your partner dies without a will affirmatively leaving assets to your son, your partner’s assets will be distributed according to your state’s intestacy laws — not to your son. To make matters worse, if your partner owned the home where you cohabitated, then you may receive an eviction notice from that partner’s family as the new owners.

The same holds true for non-married couples rearing a child who is biologically related to both of them. In some states, if the mother dies, then the child automatically inherits, regardless of whether there is a will. If the father dies, however, absent a will or paternity/parenthood statement, the child may not inherit.

Estate Plan Essentials

If you are in a non-married relationship involving minor children, be sure to have the essential estate planning legal documents created, to potentially include the following:

  • A will (include a guardian appointment for minor children)
  • A trust (to avoid probate of certain assets)
  • A parenthood statement (to establish a parental relationship)
  • A co-habitation agreement (to work out distribution of assets, custody and support issues)
  • An appropriate healthcare authorization (for each of you AND your minor children)

Do not forget about reviewing the beneficiary designations on financial accounts and life insurance policies.

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Jarvis Law Office, LLC

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904 N. Columbus Street
Lancaster, OH 43130
(740) 653-3450

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270 Bradenton Avenue, Suite 120
Dublin, OH 43017
(614) 495-4185

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St. Clairsville, OH 43950
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Jarvis Law Office · 270 Bradenton Avenue · Suite 120 · Dublin, OH 43017 · USA