Posted by Michelle May O’Neil on July 4, 2011

In a national news report by Ellen Levya at KABC-TV, it seems prenuptial agreements are not just for people getting married anymore. Out of the more than 12 million unmarried couples living under the same roof in America, many of them are choosing to sign a pre-nup-like agreement in lieu of a marriage license.  Apparently, this is the latest legal trend aimed at protecting singles and their assets.

Why are all these unmarried couples taking this direction? In a poll of divorce attorneys, 48% said that they have seen an increase in unmarried couples headed to court over issues when there is a split. 

Now a growing number of these couples are choosing to sign co-habitation agreements. These are legally binding agreements for couples that share a home, but aren’t married in the traditional sense.  They outline the couple’s 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.

These co-habitation agreements can range from simple to complex, covering everything from medical decisions and health insurance. They can even cover who’s responsible for debt and what to do with a house, cars, furniture, even pets.

Dr. Anne-Renee Testa, a relationship coach, says these agreements are just a sign of the times. That’s because over the last 20 years, the number of unmarried couples living under the same roof has skyrocketed by more than 85%.

Dr. Testa says, "Any couple that is interested in being intelligent about their relationship should do something like this because it absolutely clears the air.”

In my own practice as a Family Law attorney in Dallas, I have found these co-habitation agreements to be beneficial to same sex couples as well as traditional couples that live together without being married.  They even work for people living together who are not romantically involved, such as roommates. 

The important thing is not to think of these agreements as a negative thing. It is not about control over the other person, or distrust in one another. It is really just a protection mechanism for both parties involved in the relationship, just like a prenuptial agreement for traditional married couples.