After enduring one failed marriage – or two – fewer couples are finding themselves willing to tie the knot once again.
A recent report by the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University revealed that the U.S. remarriage rate has plunged by 40 percent over the last two decades.
That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re living in isolation. Rather, our Indiana family law attorneys recognize that many of them are instead opting to cohabit. By living together without the formality of marriage, many couples feel they can avoid the messiness that might ensue should they decide some day to part ways.
Many believe that by not making it legal, they’re keeping it simple.
For some, this may be true. However, if couples live together in the long term, co-mingle their finances, their assets and decide to have children, they could be setting themselves up for an even messier split than if they were married.
There is a misconception that if one party in this non-legally binding arrangement wants to leave, he or she can simply walk out the door, no strings attached. They won’t have to pay for an attorney or endure costly litigation.
However, what they may not realize is that with marriage comes certain legal protections for both parties. For example, Indiana is an equitable distribution state. That means that all marital property – including home sale proceeds, bank accounts, pensions and other assets acquired during the union (including debt) – is divided equitably between parties. So let’s say one half of the couple put all the credit card debt relative to marital expenses in his name, he’s not stuck paying for the entire bill.
Those who simply cohabit, even for decades, don’t have those kind of rights. Indiana does not recognize common-law marriages.
The reality is, the court system is set up to make it easier for those who were married to transition to divorce, with considerations for dividing property, sorting finances and arranging custody. Those same kind of considerations are not made for couples who aren’t married. That’s not to say they can’t seek legal remedies through the courts for these matters, but because the path is less clear, the process can be inexact and the costs can often be prohibitive.
The only exception that helps with clarification in these matters is the cohabitation agreement. It’s similar to a prenuptial agreement, except both parties are in agreement that no marriage is expected to take place.
Typically, the goal of a cohabitation agreement is to hopefully avoid court altogether. It defines in advance how couples will split up property, who should pay which debts and so forth. It’s become an increasingly popular planning tool that in the end can save couples an enormous amount of time and money, should they later choose to separate.
It may also help in the event your partner becomes gravely ill or dies. Without a marriage license, your rights to make decisions or take ownership of certain property will be in doubt. A cohabitation agreement can help to make the wishes of both parties clear.
We have already seen a surge in the popularity of these kinds of agreements, and we expect to observe a continuation of that trend.
For one thing, living together has become far more acceptable in society. No longer are these couples seen to be “living in sin.” For many younger couples, it’s seen as a logical first step toward a possible marriage. However, about 37 percent of cohabiters have been married previously, and many have no intention of making it official.
Those with questions about these agreements should contact an experienced Highland family law attorney.
Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary, Hammond and Calumet City. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.
Remarriage rate declining as more opt for cohabitation, Sept. 12, 2013, By Sharon Jayson, USA Today
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