Cohabitation: ensuring financial protection for unmarried couples


Freedom, flexibility and personal independence: cohabitation – in other words, living together as an unmarried couple – has certain advantages. But it’s really important from a financial and legal standpoint to put certain safeguards in place. It’s the only way to ensure you’ll be protected after an accident or if your partner dies – whether or not you have children.

Protection for unmarried couples

More than one million people in Switzerland today live together outside marriage. Despite the advantages this brings, unmarried couples should ensure they are properly protected. This means, for example, setting up a cohabitation agreement that determines what happens when you want to make major purchases together or start a family.

Family outside marriage

When a couple has a child together outside marriage, the law immediately recognises the mother as having parental responsibility. The father doesn't automatically have any legal relationship with the child. In order to change this, the couple must submit official acknowledgement of the father’s paternity in writing either to the civil register office or the child and adult protection authorities.

Cohabitation and home ownership

Are you and your partner planning on buying a house or a flat together? Then it’s best to opt for co-ownership. That way, each partner’s share in the property will be entered in the land register.

Setting it down in writing

Whatever their plans for the future are, when buying a home together cohabiting partners should make provision in writing for what happens to the property and how it is financed if they split up. This should include who is responsible for mortgage interest and maintenance.

Key insurance for unmarried couples

Whether planning to buy a home together, rent a flat or make major purchases – cohabiting partners need insurance like household contents insurance, liability insurance and legal expenses insurance to ensure they’re both properly protected.

Cohabitation agreement: a single piece of paper with many advantages

A cohabitation agreement covers important points of living together, including assets and inheritance, child support and who owns what. Setting all this down in writing can keep any disputes to a minimum if the couple splits up.

Written agreement

A cohabitation agreement is a written document, signed by both partners. It doesn't have to be officially certified by a notary.

Death: protecting your partner properly

It may have some advantages but, in Switzerland, cohabiting couples aren't as well-protected by law as married couples. The greatest risk arises when one of the partners dies. The following points are important when it comes to pension planning:

1st pillar – AHV

The law makes no provision for a widow's or widower’s pension for cohabiting partners under the state pension scheme. If one of them dies, any children they had together will receive survivors’ benefits.

2nd pillar – pension fund

The basic rules are: you may choose to nominate your cohabiting partner as a beneficiary on your death if you've lived together for at least five years or started a family together. To ensure that your unmarried partner actually receives the benefits, you must notify the pension fund of your wishes.

3rd pillar – private pension

You can make your partner a beneficiary under Pillar 3a even if you've been living together for less than five years. However, you must not have been married previously, and you must name your cohabiting partner as an heir in your will and inform the Pillar 3a provider accordingly.

Free to choose your heirs

If you don't make any arrangements as to who gets what outside of these three pillars, then your parents or children will inherit everything. As of 2023, parents no longer receive a compulsory portion, so you can now leave your entire inheritance to your chosen beneficiary.

This makes it all the more important for unmarried couples to put private safeguards in place. One way to do this is with death insurance.

Accident or illness

Cohabiting couples are also disadvantaged when it comes to healthcare. For example, if your partner ends up in intensive care, you might not be allowed to visit them or even be given any information about their state of health. That’s why it’s worth drawing up an advance healthcare directive.

Splitting up: what now?

Unlike a divorce, you might initially think nothing needs to be settled if you decide to go your separate ways. But discussions and arguments can quickly break out if you have children together or own joint assets. That’s why a written separation agreement, in which you specify who is responsible for childcare and support payments after the separation, for example, is recommended.

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Wills, powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives in brief

  • Wills and inheritance law: A will sets out your individual wishes regarding what happens after you die. It must be written by hand, signed and dated. A contract of inheritance, on the other hand, must be officially notarised. Cohabiting couples may use a will or contract of inheritance to specify that the 25% of the estate which doesn't automatically go to the children by law may be inherited by the surviving partner. If no such document has been drawn up, the surviving cohabiting partner cannot inherit anything.
  • Power of attorney: To ensure that bills continue to be paid when one partner ends up in hospital or dies, their nearest and dearest can be given a power of attorney over their bank accounts. Any credit balance will remain on the account, while withdrawals will be restricted.
  • Advance healthcare directive: An advance healthcare directive is a way of preparing for a medical worst-case scenario. Your wishes in relation to medical treatment are set down in writing. This enables someone you trust to discuss the proposed treatment with doctors and decide whether the measures to be taken are in line with the directive.

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