Illinois Cohabitation Agreements: Are they legally recognized?

Understanding Cohabitation Agreements in Illinois

In Illinois, cohabitation agreements are becoming increasingly common as more couples choose to live together without entering into a marriage or civil union. While cohabitation has become more socially accepted, the legal framework surrounding it can be complex and often misunderstood. This article aims to clarify the status of cohabitation agreements in Illinois, their legal recognition, and their practical implications for couples.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document that outlines the rights and responsibilities of each person in a non-marital relationship. It can cover various aspects of the couple's life together, including property division, financial arrangements, and even matters related to child rearing if applicable. These agreements are especially useful for couples looking to protect their individual assets or outline the terms of their relationship without the legal bonds of marriage.

Legal Recognition of Cohabitation Agreements in Illinois

In Illinois, cohabitation agreements are legally recognized and generally enforceable under contract law, provided they meet certain criteria. The agreements must be in writing and executed with the full consent of both parties, free from duress or undue influence. A notable case that highlights this was Hewitt v. Hewitt (1979), where the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that while these relationships are not equivalent to marriage, adults who willingly live together and engage in a financial partnership have the right to create binding agreements regarding their assets.

However, it’s important to note that cohabitation agreements cannot include terms that violate public policy or criminal law. For example, an agreement cannot dictate terms for support or property division that would incentivize divorce or undermine existing marriage laws.

Benefits of Cohabitation Agreements

Establishing a cohabitation agreement provides a framework for managing financial matters and can help prevent disputes should the relationship end. These agreements can:

Couples who invest in property together or share significant expenses may find these agreements particularly beneficial as they offer clarity that state law does not automatically provide for unmarried couples.

Challenges and Considerations

While cohabitation agreements offer many advantages, they can also pose challenges. If not carefully crafted, an agreement might be contested or deemed unenforceable. It’s essential for each party to seek independent legal advice before entering into a cohabitation agreement. This ensures that both individuals fully understand their rights and the implications of the agreement.

Despite their legal recognition, there is no guarantee that every term outlined in a cohabitation agreement will be enforced by a court. In some cases, courts may scrutinize provisions related to child custody and support, as these matters are ultimately determined based on what is in the best interest of the child.


Cohabitation agreements in Illinois offer non-married couples a means to structure their financial relationship with legal backing. While these agreements are recognized under Illinois law, it is crucial that they are well-drafted and fair to ensure enforceability. As societal norms continue to evolve, it's likely that such agreements will play an increasingly important role in defining personal relationships outside of marriage.