Cohabitation agreements: prenups for unmarried couples

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Legal Separation on Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Did you know that Missouri is one of the many states in America that does not recognize common law marriages? In most states, if a couple has lived together for a long time, they receive a certain legal status which grants them a few of the advantages associated with marriage. For instance, if the couple ends their relationship, each partner has the right to seek financial support from their ex or compensation for large purchases made together, such as a house.

In Missouri, however, there is no specific legal process mandating how long-term cohabitating couples must split assets or debt they accumulated during the course of their relationship. In some cases, deciding to split from a live-in girlfriend or boyfriend can be even more complicated than seeking a divorce. Many long-term couples must still work out issues such as property division and child custody, but often have no legal documents dictating how the break-up should proceed.

Data from the US census shows that an increasing number of US couples are shying away from traditional marriage in favor of cohabitation. The average age at which both men and women are taking their first marriage vows is higher than ever before, and the number of couples who describe themselves as cohabitating has increased two-fold since 1996.

However, just because many couples are choosing to bypass legal marriage before they build a life together does not mean that they avoid the complications involved in ending a long-term relationship. According to a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the number of unmarried clients seeking legal action against their ex for things such as debt repayment or child support has risen in the past five years.

If a live-in couple decides that traditional marriage is not for them, many family law experts suggest that the partners develop a cohabitation agreement before making significant joint purchases or having children. A cohabitation agreement-similar to a prenuptial agreement-can help couples simply the process of separating their lives should they decide to end their relationship.

Source: STLToday, “For live-in lovers, breaking up can be worse than a divorce.” Aisha Sultan, 16 March 2011.