Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Living Together? Get It In Writing!

Have you noticed that marriage is on the decline? 

Many couples, young and old, are choosing to avoid legal marriage while they live as partners.  This trend is influenced by a variety of factors such as:
  •        Earning equality between men and women
  •        A first marriage that ended with a negative divorce experience
  •        The nasty divorces experienced by parents, friends, family members, and acquaintances
  •        A decline in religious objections to co-habitation
  •        Cultural acceptance of living together as a first step towards marriage
  •        Concerns about inheritance for children from a prior marriage

Sadly, however, a co-habiting couple cannot avoid all of the negativity that a break-up brings.  In fact, unmarried couples who end their relationships may still face significant legal, logistical, psychological, social, and financial complications.  And, if a couple has children, or own a home (or other property) together, they will need to make many decisions about their futures during the difficult time.

Here is what you need to know:

Common-law-marriage is not recognized in Florida and many other states.  In general, co-habiting couples have no rights to alimony or shared property, regardless of the number of years they have been together, whether they have children, or what the partners have contributed to each other’s assets. 

One way to ease the difficulty of a future break-up is to create a co-habitation agreement that outlines how things will play out if a couple decides to break-up.  A co-habitation agreement can set out, in writing, an outline of how a couple’s relationship, finances, in-law encounters, and day-to-day chores will operate while they are happy together.

The biggest benefit to creating a co-habitation agreement may be that by engaging in the discussion that is used to create their agreement, a couple is provided with an opportunity to clarify their unspoken expectations.  And, it is frequently these unspoken expectations that lead to the disappointments that destroy a couple’s bond.  A mediator can help a couple hold this conversation and create their agreement.

Some may say that the process is unromantic.  However, what is more romantic than wanting to save future heartache for your beloved (and yourself) while giving your relationship every possible advantage?  If your new partner is unwilling to engage in this discussion and create an agreement while you are within the “honeymoon” phase of your relationship you might want to consider what it might be like to negotiate with him/her when the additional pressures of relationship failure are leaving you both feeling depleted.
In addition to a co-habitation agreement, unmarried couples should consider how they can use wills and other estate planning documents (such as medical surrogacy) to protect themselves, each other, and their heirs.  Talk to an attorney who specializes in estate planning to make sure your wishes will be met if you are unable to speak for yourself. 

Ultimately, if a couple does break-up and they bring questions to a court, a judge is likely to consider what they wrote in their co-habitation agreement.  However, in practice, people who have gone to the effort of creating a co-habitation agreement are likely to abide by it if they split up, without the need for court involvement.

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