According to the Pew research Center, fewer couples than ever are deciding to take the matrimonial plunge. Only 51 percent of U.S. adults say “I do” anymore. The trend has seen increasing numbers of unmarried couples seeking to protect their assets, should their relationships end, with pre-nuptial-like agreements.
Legally binding contracts
Often called “cohabitation agreements” — because the participants don’t have plans to marry — the agreements are legally binding attorney-drawn instruments that serve the same function as pre-nuptial agreements. They protect individual assets. The agreements also often address child custody and support issues in the event of a breakup.
Specifies support issues
Silvana Raso, a matrimonial attorney with the New Jersey-based firm Schepisi & McLaughlin, said:
“A cohabitation agreement would specify the rights and support for each party in the case of a break up.”
Most filed by heterosexual couples
In a recent poll of 1,600 divorce attorneys, 39 percent said they have seen an increase in co-habitation agreements over the past five years. The poll, conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, went on to say that 70 percent of those agreements were filed by heterosexual couples.
More to protect with age
Nearly half of the attorneys polled also said they had seen a marked increase of courtroom disputes between unmarried couples who share a roof.
Ken Altshuler, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said:
“We’ve seen a real dramatic increase. A lot more people are delaying, or forgoing, marriage and people are realizing as you get older, you have more things to protect.”
Couples who share a home
Altshuler said that an agreement is particularly important for couples who own a home together:
“States don’t have cohabitation laws, so if you buy a house together with someone you are not married to, a cohabitation agreement can define how those assets and debts are divided and that can save years of litigation.”
Protection from ex’s debt
Raso also pointed out that the safeguard can be helpful for protection against an ex-partner’s debt:
“One party can have a lot of credit card debt or student loans and the other party may want to make sure they are not liable for that.”
Make decisions in happy time
Daniel Clement, a New York-based divorce lawyer, said these contracts should be drawn up during the early part of a relationship, before any bitterness sets in:
“It’s a happy time, when you don’t have the bitterness that you experience at the time of a breakup.”