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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

Forgoing marriage doesn’t always make a separation any easier, P.1

The common assumption about cohabiting is that it is a convenient way of testing-driving a relationship prior to marriage or a way to avoid legal entanglements in case the relationship fails. But increasingly, these assumptions are proving to be untrue.

Many counselors and psychologists believe that because many cohabiting couples live as if they were married, their split-ups are just as difficult as if they had gotten married. That is especially the case where cohabiting couples own property jointly and have financial and non-marital legal ties. Breakups between cohabiting couples may even be more difficult at times, particularly for couples who do not have social support from family and friends.

According to Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, couples splitting after cohabitation often go through a great deal of pain. “By cohabiting vs. marrying, people aren’t avoiding that aspect of pain.” Psychologically and socially, the effects of separation are very similar for unmarried couples.

Cohabitation is, to be sure, very common and is on the rise. According to the most recent census data, 7.5 million couples are cohabiting in the United States. That number, a 13 percent increase from 2009, is the highest it’s ever been. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers say that studies show over 60% of couples who marry will live together first. As well, former partners are increasingly engaging in legal battles.

Out of the group’s 1,600 members, 48 percent of respondents to a January survey reported a sharp increase in court cases, and 39 percent reported the number of cohabitation agreements is on the rise. Over the last five years, cohabitation agreements have increased as a result of the trends. Cohabitation agreements are similar in many ways to prenuptial agreements.

Among the respondents, the consensus was that most cohabitation agreements are drafted for unmarried heterosexual couples, while around 30 percent are drafted for homosexual couples.

In our next post, we’ll continue with this topic.

Source: USA Today, “When unmarried couples split, complications follow,” Sharon Jayson, 26 April 2011.