Jewel Landers and her boyfriend Chuck have been a committed couple for 23 years. They live together and have a financial routine.
“Chuck pays the household bills. He pays the mortgage. I pay for the cell phone bill and everything that comes into the house, except for the big-ticket items, like a refrigerator, the washer, the dryer,” says Jewel.
But the deed to the house is only in Chuck’s name. It’s something that concerns Jewel. She doesn’t want to end up in court if they go their separate ways.
Jewel’s relationship is going strong, but a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) revealed a 48% increase in the number of couples duking it out in court. Now, a growing number are choosing to sign cohabitation agreements. They’re legally binding documents 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,” says Linda Lea Viken, President of the AAML.
Agreements can range from simple to complex, covering everything from medical decisions and health insurance to payment of debt and division of property. It really depends on the couple.
“What happens if you buy a house together? If I contribute to your house, that is, it’s in your name, but I add to it. I remodel it and I put in $20,000. Do I get that back if we break up?” asks Viken.
You can even divvy up your pets. The American Academy of Matrimonial Layers says it should all be discussed. That’s because, depending on the state, an unmarried couple can be treated as legal strangers. Cohabitation agreements not only prevent this, they prevent the financial and emotional turmoil that often results from heading to court.
Relationship coach Dr. Anne-Renee Testa says these agreements are a sign of the times. Over the past two decades, the number of unmarried couples living under the same roof has increased by more than 85%.
“Any couple that is interested in being intelligent about their relationship should do something like this because it absolutely clears the air. It creates an openness about their relationship.”
That’s why Dr. Testa believes a cohabitation agreement shouldn’t be viewed as a “negative.” She says it’s not about control, or about feeling as though the romance has been zapped.
“If you know things up front, then you’re ahead of the game and you’re being smart and savvy. If anything, go out and have a glass of champagne afterwards and celebrate!” says Dr. Testa.
Jewel says Chuck hasn’t opened up to the idea of a cohabitation agreement yet, but she hopes he’ll change his mind.
“I think you need to protect yourself just in case something happens,” she says.SOURCE INFO: AAML Survey: (The date underneath the title is wrong. It says 1970…not sure why. This was from February of this year) http://www.aaml.org/about-the-academy/press/press-releases/more-couples-who-live-together-are-breaking-courtroom The number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased by 88% between 1990 and 2007. - U.S. Census Bureau. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007.”