According to the 2020 Census, 17% of men and women between 25 to 34 live with an unmarried partner. Some of these individuals may eventually get married; others will continue to cohabit until the relationship ends. While this may be the right choice emotionally for these couples, many of them don’t consider that they have given up the financial and legal protections of marriage and may pay the price for that if the relationship fails. If you want to live together without marrying, protect yourself by knowing about what needs to be done.
Views on marriage differ significantly by generation. Individuals are marrying later in life and increasing numbers never marry. As a result, when couples decide to cohabit, they may not think about what they are giving up and they don’t take steps to fill those gaps. For example:
- An unmarried couple has children. If they split up, neither party is entitled to spousal support.
- One partner has a child from a prior relationship but raises the child with another partner, then the relationship ends. The partner who helped raise the child but is not a biological or adoptive parent doesn’t have parenting rights. And, he or she isn’t obligated to pay child support.
- One partner dies. The other partner has no right to any of the deceased partner’s assets unless designated in a Will or the deceased partner named the other as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy or bank or retirement account. The living partner also isn’t entitled to any social security benefits when the other partner dies.
- One or both partners retire. Married and divorced spouses can elect to receive the greater of their social security monthly benefit or one-half of their spouse’s benefit. These benefits are not available to unmarried couples. In a sense, they are forfeited.
- Both partners contribute to a business owned by one of the partners. The contributions by a non-owner spouse would be considered in a divorce proceeding and could result in a higher share of the business for the non-owner spouse. Unmarried, non-owner partners don’t have those rights.
These are just a few of the latent issues that arise when couples choose not to get married. The law gives married couples certain rights and obligations both during marriage as well as in the event of divorce or death. However, unmarried individuals must provide their own plans for such circumstances.
A cohabitation agreement is an answer. It is a legal contract where the parties set forth their financial expectations, rights and responsibilities, including how they will address separate and joint expenses, debts and savings during the relationship and after it ends. It also allows them to decide how they will leave their assets in the event of death and whether any support will be paid if the couple splits.
Negotiating an agreement shouldn’t be treated as anticipating that your love will end. It is an opportunity to discuss and be open about what you expect for the future.
If you don’t want to get married, that’s fine, but don’t leave yourself vulnerable to unfinished business.
As the Divorce Sherpa, I have the experience to know what needs to be done.
Contact me if you are interested in learning more.