New York State Law Not Adapting To Changing Times --Manhattan Legal Expert Supports Cohabitation Agreements--

Many couples today decline marriage, but what happens when financially lopsided couples who decline the protections of marriage, break up? Wealthy individuals or those who anticipate large inheritances may want to protect their assets. Likewise, those who enter into a relationship and sacrifice time and effort in supporting it in non-financial ways will want to ensure their security should a break-up occur.

"Like most states, New York does not recognize common law marriage and does not allow same sex marriage or civil unions," said Liz Mandarano, a Manhattan family law and divorce attorney at Bikel & Mandarano, LLP and frequent blogger for the Huffington Post Divorce Vertical. "Therefore, individuals who cohabitate, even for decades, are legally considered strangers when it comes to property rights. It is critical that unmarried couples who live together discuss financial expectations, personal obligations, and identify property rights should the relationship end."

The recent Pew Research Center study found that 39 percent of Americans say marriage is becoming obsolete. And, the break-up rate for cohabiting couples is similar and even higher than divorce rates- 40% of will break-up within five years. The law looks unfavorably on people who do not marry. By declining to examine the needs of a fast growing population that has opted out of the traditional marriage setting, New York fails to protect a significant portion of its population.

Mandarano adds, "Let's say a woman supports her boyfriend through business school. They cohabitate, but decline to marry for political reasons. After 10 years, they break-up. Over the years, his success ultimately earned him millions. In New York, a married woman has the laws of equitable distribution to protect her. The unmarried woman? Zip."

So without legislation or an active judiciary, how do unmarried cohabitants protect their rights? Mandarano recommends partners have cohabitation agreements, as well as wills. These agreements may be beneficial if:

  • You have significant assets or an anticipated inheritance.
  • You own a business or property purchased before or during the cohabitation. 
  • There are children from a previous relationship. 
  • There is an income disparity. 
  • You or your partner has debts. 
  • One person is sacrificing economic power to raise children.
  • To properly compensate a caregiver.
  • To clarify personal expectations of the relationship.
  • To clarify financial support during the relationship or upon its dissolution.
  • To specify health insurance coverage.
  • To determine the right to serve as a guardian in the event of incapacitation or to make medical decisions.
  • You want clarification on a variety of issues such as how expenses are handled, infidelity, and separation and death provision.

Mandarano continues, "New York needs to acknowledge a trend that shows no sign of long-term reversal and examine the financial impact that occurs when a cohabiting couple break-ups in the same manner it examines the impact of divorce. New York then needs to enact appropriate legislation that protects both sides just as when a marriage ends. Until that time, cohabiting couples should contract, either by themselves or preferably with the assistance of an attorney, as to such financial obligations and property division upon the termination of the relationship."

Lisa Gordon
HJMT Public Relations Inc.

Bikel & Mandarano, LLP is a midtown Manhattan-based boutique law firm devoted exclusively to matrimonial, divorce and family law as well as related legal matters such as estate planning. The founding members, Dror Bikel and Liz Mandarano, have a unique combination of strong trial experience, effective negotiation skills, and attention to detail that achieve the best resolution possible. As a boutique venture, the firm seeks creative solutions and invests all of their resources to provide their clients depth and scope of legal expertise in their specialized practice. For more information visit, call 212 682-6333 or email


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