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Leonardo Angiulo: The Consequences of Cohabitation

Monday, December 09, 2013

 

Sometimes it's the mistletoe, sometimes it's the liquor. Whatever the reason, 'tis the season for getting down. And as most people can agree at a certain point in every relationship the question becomes whether the couple will be taking the next step or whether it was just fun while it lasted. For many people, “the next step” is not getting married but is rather sharing a place to live.

As this column focuses on legal, rather than moral, issues I won't dwell on all the things that your family's priest or other religious leader might say. In fact, there are some that believe how a person chooses to live their life is nobody's business but their own. So long as they're not hurting anyone of course. Unfortunately for the “live and let live” crowd, there are some fairly important practical situations that you need to consider while going apartment hunting with that lucky lady or gentleman.

Thankfully, the state legislature passed “An act legalizing cohabitation” back in 1987 so all those love birds out there can breath easy. That is, however, about the only thing you can legally do together because the crime of “Fornication” pursuant to MGL c. 272, sec. 18 subjects you to incarceration for up to three months for unmarried sexual intercourse. In addition, if your special someone is separated from their spouse and you're just waiting for the divorce to go through, you probably want to wait for a few other things as well. Adultery, it turns out, is not only a criminal offense but is actually a felony carrying up to three years in state prison as a penalty. Given the relatively progressive nature of Massachusetts, it is fair to say that these laws are technically on the books, but aren't generally enforced. Rightly or wrongly, people probably have no reason to be afraid of criminal consequences for engaging in lewd and lascivious cohabitation.

Cohabitation creates unique problems

The real problems don't come while people are happy together. It's when things go bad that cohabitation creates unique problems. The reality is that relationships don't always work out and, if you've had a rocky road up to this point, chances are being shmooshed together in the same space could make things worse. The question you might want to ask yourself is: what is this going to be like in my worse case scenario?

Terrible situation number 1: a restraining order gets issued against you. Nine times out of ten that means, as the defendant, you are out of the shared residence. It generally doesn't matter whether or not the lease, mortgage, deed is in your name or whether you found the cardboard box you guys were sharing. If you've got a restraining order against you, you're finding a new place to live. If your domestic partner has a child, and wants to stay in the residence, you may as well buy a new sleeping bag now because your car will get mighty cold in the winter and finding a new apartment is probably going to take a week or two. Depending on certain circumstances, and the laws of your jurisdiction, if you had been paying bills like rent and utilities before the restraining order you may be required to continue to pay those bills while you're out of the residence  or face prosecution for a criminal restraining order violation.

Speaking of children, if your domestic partner does have children and either shares custody, or has visitation, there is the real potential for you to become involved in a family court case. Your involvement can range from the mundane, like interviews with various social services agencies about your criminal history and current lifestyle, to the extreme, like in court testimony regarding your income and financial contributions to the household along with your bank records getting subpoenaed. In some states, how the expenses of a household get paid become a question of fact for things like alimony and child support. Exactly how those issues might come into play is best explained by local practitioners and it might be worth consulting with an Attorney in your particular jurisdiction to get a sense for what you're getting yourself into.

And, depending on where you are, you might just be getting into more than a chance to play house with your heartthrob. Massachusetts does not have what is known as “common law marriage” in some jurisdictions. This is when a cohabitation lasts for a period of time resulting in the law viewing the parties as a legal union. When two people break up there are all kinds of concerns like splitting up debt, splitting up bank accounts and distributing physical property like furniture or jewelry. If you're not in a legal union, family courts usually have no jurisdiction to help you get your stuff back or require the other party to pay debt incurred for the household so you might have a pretty big headache without any help from a judge. Of course, if you are in a jurisdiction with common law marriage you may have an even bigger headache of your own making, and enforced by a judge, if you and the honeybee don't work out. Alimony paid to a girl you never planned on marrying in the first place? Sounds like a nightmare.

Protecting yourself

Let's be honest, no one wants to plan for a relationship to fail but sometimes they do. One thing that can help are contracts called cohabitation agreements, which an Attorney can help you draft. Believe it or not, these are written agreements between romantic roommates that work like prenuptial agreements and define how a domestic partnership may end. This can help eliminate some of the worries that come from trying to make a relationship work by sharing a place. Specifically, it can help prevent short term romances from creating long term financial consequences. While talking to an Attorney now might seem like a problem because of the cost involved, it might save you from even bigger problems later on. At the very least, it might help you know what you are getting yourself into.

Leonardo Angiulo is an Attorney with the firm of Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski in Worcester handling legal matters across the Commonwealth. He can be reached by email at langiulo@gmail.com.

 

Related Slideshow: Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index Scorecard - Worcester, MA

HRC's Municipal Equality Index (MEI) demonstrates the ways that many cities can—and do— support the LGBT people who live and work there, even where states and the federal government have failed to do so. GoLocal pulled the data from the 2013 report to show where Worcester excels and where it is lacking in supporting equality in the municipaility.

This year's report rates a total of 291 cities from every state in the nation, representing a total population total of 77,851,822.  To see how Worcester compares to other cities, download the full 2013 MEI report here.

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Worcester Non-Discrimination Laws

This category evaluates whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by the city, county, or state in areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Worcester is subject to Massachusetts state laws with regard to employment, housing, and public accomodations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity, excepting only public accomodations laws with regard to gender identity, so they fall closely within line of HRC's best practices. 

Non-Discrimination Laws  
Employment  
points for sexual orientation 3 out of 3
points for gender identity 3 out of 3
Housing  
points for sexual orientation 3 out of 3
points for gender identity 3 out of 3
Public Accommodations  
points for sexual orientation 3 out of 3
points for gender identity 0 out of 3
   
Total Score 15 out of 18
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Worcester Relationship Recognition

Because this is an evaluation of municipalities, not states, and marriage is a state-level policy, this section is weighted so that an equal number of points are awarded for marriage (or other state relationship recognition) and municipal domestic partner registries.

Since Massachusetts became the sixth jurisdiction in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, Worcester residents are granted ample recognition of their relationships without regard to same or opposite sex. 

Relationship Recognition 2013
Marriage Equality, Civil Unions, Domestic Partnerships 12 out of 12
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Worcester Municipality as Employer

By offering equivalent benefits and protections to LGBT employees, and by awarding contracts to fair-minded businesses, municipalities commit themselves to treating LGBT employees equally.

By the HRC's account, Worcester falls short as an employer, lacking ample forthright laws forbidding discrimination in city employment, ensuring equivalent family leave, and affirmatively forbidding discrimination in awarding city contracts and benefits to contractors.

Municipality as Employer 2013
Non-Discrimination in City Employment  
points for sexual orientation 0 out of 5
points for gender identity 0 out of 5
Domestic Partner Health Benefits
4 out of 4
Legal Dependent Benefits
2 out of 2
Equivalent Family Leave
0 out of 2
City Contractor
Non-Discrimination Ordinance
 
points for sexual orientation 0 out of 2
points for gender identity 0 out of 2
City Contractor
Equal Benefits Ordinance
0 out of 4
Total Score 6 out of 26
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Worcester Municipal Services

This section assesses the efforts of the city to ensure LGBT constituents are included in city services and programs.

A lack of a direct liason to the LGBT community in the mayor's office as well as no formally enumerated anti-bullying policies in schools at the municipal level hurt Worcester in this category. Worcester does have a Human Rights Office tasked with, among other things, "advocat[ing] for the human and civil rights of ALL residents of the City."

Municipal Services 2013
Human Rights Commission
7 out of 7
LGBT Liaison in
the Mayor’s Office
0 out of 5
Enumerated Anti-Bullying
School Policies
 
points for sexual orientation 0 out of 3
points for gender identity 0 out of 3
Total Score 7 out of 18
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Worcester Law Enforcement

Fair enforcement of the law includes responsible reporting of hate crimes and engaging with the LGBT community in a thoughtful and respectful way.

Worcester reports hate crime statistics, but their lack of a specific LGBT police liason or task force caused an 8 point deduction from their final score.

Municipal Services 2013
LGBT Police Liaison
or Task Force
0 out of 8
Reported 2011 Hate Crimes
Statistics to the FBI
10 out of 10
Total Score 10 out of 18
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Worcester Relationship with the LGBT Community

This category measures the city leadership’s commitment to fully include the LGBT community and to advocate for full equality.

Worcester was noted for it's leadership's public position on LGBT equality. However, it seems the Human Rights Commission sees room for improvement there. Furthermore, there have not been enough legislative efforts to pick up points in that department. Other direct efforts to engage with the LGBT community, however, landed Worcester 2 bonus points.

Municipal Services 2013
Leadership’s Public Position
on LGBT Equality
3 out of 5
Leadership’s Pro-Equality
Legislative or Policy Efforts
0 out of 3
Total Score 3 out of 8
BONUS: City engages with
the LGBT community
2 Bonus Points
Prev Next

Total Scores

81 out of 100

Categories 2013
I. Non-Discrimination Laws
15 out of 18
II. Relationship Recognition 12 out of 12
III. Municipality as Employer 6 out of 26
IV. Municipal Services 7 out of 18
V. Law Enforcement 10 out of 18
VI. Relationship with the LGBT Community 3 out of 8
Bonus 2 points
Total Score 55 out of 100

 

 
 

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