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Pre-nup agreements for cohabitating singles

May 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A prenuptial agreement without the wedding? More than 12 million unmarried couples live under the same roof. Not every pair will sign a marriage license, but many are choosing to sign a pre-nup-like agreement. Why? This latest legal trend is aimed at protecting singles and their assets.

Jewel Landers and her boyfriend, Chuck, have been a committed couple for 23 years. They live together and have their financial routine down pat.

"Chuck pays the household bills. He pays the mortgage. I pay for everything that comes into the house," said Jewel.

But the fact that the deed to the house is only in Chuck's name is something concerns Jewel.

"I would hope that if something were to happen to us that I would get something out of it without having to take him to court," said Jewel.

Jewel's relationship might be strong, but 48 percent of divorce attorneys polled said they've seen an increase in unmarried couples in court.

Now a growing number is choosing to sign cohabitation agreements. Those are legally binding agreements for couples that share a home, but aren't hitched.

"It outlines their expectations for their relationship, and also what happens in the event that the relationship ends, either by death or by simply deciding they're not going to live together anymore," said Linda Lea Viken, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML).

Agreements can range from simple to complex, covering everything from medical decisions and health insurance. They can even cover who's responsible for debt and what to do with a condominium or a house.

"What happens if you buy a house together? Who gets that house if it's not in both names? Also, furniture, or other things that are not titled and not in anyone's particular name. You could even divide the pets up if you wanted to," said Viken.

Legal experts say that if you're serious, all of it should be discussed. But it doesn't have to be that complicated.

"You don't have to go to court," said Viken. "You simply follow your agreement. And that saves you the time, the money and the emotional turmoil that it would be if you have a fight."

Dr. Anne-Renee Testa, a relationship coach, says these agreements are just a sign of the times. That's because over the last 20 years, the number of unmarried couples living under the same roof has skyrocketed by more than 85 percent.

"Any couple that is interested in being intelligent about their relationship should do something like this because it absolutely clears the air," said Testa.

That's why Testa say it's important not to think of a cohabitation agreement as a negative.

"It's not about one person controlling the other," said Testa. "It's not about feeling as though the romance is taken out of it. If anything, they should go out and have a glass of champagne afterwards and celebrate."

Jewel Landers says it's not quite time for that glass of champagne yet, but she still hopes Chuck will at least think about it.

"I think you need to protect yourself just in case something happens," said Jewel.


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