North Carolina's Laws on the Enforceability of Cohabitation Agreements

Understanding Cohabitation Agreements in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the landscape of family law includes provisions for cohabitation agreements, which are legal arrangements between unmarried partners who live together. These agreements serve to define the rights and obligations of each party, much like prenuptial agreements do for married couples. With the rise of cohabitation in lieu of marriage, understanding the enforceability of such agreements becomes paramount for protecting individual interests.

The Legal Framework Governing Cohabitation Agreements

Cohabitation agreements in North Carolina are governed by contract law principles, as there is no specific statute in the state that directly addresses them. These agreements are enforceable as long as they meet the criteria for a valid contract: offer, acceptance, consideration, competency of parties to contract, and a lawful purpose.

An illustrative example of the importance of these agreements can be found in the 1995 case of 'Brennan v. Brennan,' where a cohabitation agreement was upheld because it met all the necessary contractual requirements. This case set a precedent in North Carolina for treating cohabitation agreements with similar respect to other forms of contracts, provided they adhere to legal standards.

Key Considerations When Drafting a Cohabitation Agreement

To enhance enforceability, a cohabitation agreement should be drafted with clear terms and should include provisions related to property division, financial support, and any other relevant matters. It is advisable for each party to obtain independent legal counsel to ensure their rights are adequately protected and the agreement is free of any undue influence or duress.

Another critical aspect is full disclosure; both parties must fully disclose their financial situations. Lack of disclosure could lead to an agreement being invalidated if challenged in court. It's also important to note that while cohabitation agreements can address financial and property issues, they cannot stipulate terms regarding child custody or support; such matters are always subject to review by the courts to ensure the best interests of the child are met.

The Impact on Unmarried Couples

For unmarried couples in North Carolina looking to secure their financial future together, a well-crafted cohabitation agreement can provide legal certainty. In the event of separation or one partner's death, such an agreement can greatly simplify asset division and reduce potential conflicts.

Despite their utility, cohabitation agreements have limitations and cannot confer certain legal benefits that marriage provides. For example, they cannot grant spousal rights under federal law or guarantee rights typically associated with marriage, such as inheritance or spousal support under certain state laws.


Cohabitation agreements provide a valuable tool for couples who choose to live together without marrying in North Carolina. While enforceable under contract law principles, these agreements must be carefully crafted and executed with due diligence to ensure validity. As societal norms continue to evolve, the significance of these agreements is likely to increase, making it essential for cohabiting couples to consider them as part of their long-term planning.