Generally, if it is legal for two persons who are not living together to agree, it is also legal for the couple to enter into a similar agreement. The fact that two people are living together and unmarried does not make an agreement automatically illegal. If two people wish to agree about how much each will pay for rent, mortgage, utilities, groceries, auto expenses, etcetera, the agreement can be valid and enforceable. If one party does not keep his or her end of the bargain, that person can be sued.
If the loss of a large amount of money is involved, a lawsuit or threat of a lawsuit may be worthwhile. If the dollar amount is relatively small, the wiser course of action probably is to walk away, hopefully with some added wisdom for dealing with the next relationship. Similarly, if there is no practical way to collect the amount due from the person who broke a promise, if, for example, the person has virtually no assets and no steady source of income, a lawsuit is not likely to be worth the effort.
In some cases, an unmarried couple may be considered to have a business relationship and a personal relationship. The combined relationship can create legal rights. For example, in an Oregon case, an unmarried couple agreed to operate a ranch together and share equally in the profits and expenses of running the ranch. When the couple split up, the partner who did not own the ranch was entitled to an amount of money equal to one-half of the increase in the ranch’s value during the time the couple lived together and worked together.
As with any contract, if a person wants protection, it is best to make the agreement specific and in writing. An oral agreement might be enforceable, but it is much harder to prove.
To be valid, contracts usually need to have consideration. That means each party to the agreement should benefit the other party, such as agreeing to pay a portion of expenses. If an agreement looks as though it is only creating a gift from one party to the other with the recipient giving nothing in return, the agreement might not be enforceable because of lack of consideration.
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