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Couples who live together turn to prenup-like pacts

Unmarried couples in Texas and throughout the United States are increasingly drawing up legal documents similar to prenuptial agreements to specify various matters, including those of the financial type, even though they haven't said "I do."

The avenue of family law has expanded to the unmarried over the past few years with the legally binding document, called a cohabitation agreement, becoming more popular. As couples live together instead of marry, cohabitation agreements serve to protect the assets of each person in the relationship, deal with child custody and set terms of future support.

The cohabitation agreement can help to keep a non-married couple out of a courtroom battle should their relationship end. According to statistics compiled by the Pew Research Center, a record-low number of American adults -- just 51 percent -- are marrying. Still, many people function as married couples without getting a marriage license or exchanging rings.

Cohabitation agreements can help when couples make purchases together, such as a house. Such agreements can help to save time in litigation regarding how to divide large assets and debts if the couple splits up. Since some states, including Texas, do not have many specific laws dealing with cohabitation, the documents can prove valuable, experts said.

Couples can include a variety of elements in their cohabitation agreement. For example, if one party stays home with children instead of working, the agreement could specify support for the non-working member of the couple in the future. It also can spell out child support issues.

The agreement also can address other liabilities that a person brings into a relationship. For example, if one half of the couple has extensive student loan debt, the two sides can put in writing through the cohabitation agreement that such debt will remain in the hands of the person who signed the loan document. The other half can absolve himself or herself of any responsibility.

The best time to create a cohabitation agreement is before a couple moves in together or in the very early days of a relationship, just as a prenuptial agreement is drawn before a wedding. At the start of a domestic partnership without marriage, people are happy and think logically and without bitterness, experts said.

Source: CNN Money, "Prenups Aren't Just For Married Couples Anymore," Jessica Dickler, March 20, 2012

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