When unmarried couples split, complications follow
By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY
Updated 49m ago
By Joel Page, for USA TODAY
Daniel Emerson and his ex lived together for five years in Washington, D.C. They bought a condo together.
But then, the cohabiting couple broke up.
Emerson, 30, an investment analyst, moved to Boston 18 months ago and his former partner stayed in Washington. She paid most of the mortgage and they split the condo fees, he says.
She recently moved to Denver and declined to be interviewed; Emerson says his former partner will try to find a renter for the condo, but nothing is really worked out. "At the time we purchased it, we didn't have any expectation of leaving it separately, so there was never any real discussion up front," he says.
Emerson and a growing number of other cohabiters are finding that not being married doesn't necessarily make it easier when you split — either emotionally or logistically.
"I don't think there's any difference in how I felt after the fact, because it felt like it was a marriage," Emerson says. And when they broke up, "it still felt like it was a divorce."
Cohabiting is a significant emotional attachment, and when you break up, "it's going to hurt a lot," says Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. "By cohabiting vs. marrying, people aren't avoiding that aspect of pain."
And because cohabiting has become so widespread — more than 60% of couples who marry today live together first, studies have found — the number of court battles between former partners and the number of cohabitation agreements have increased during the past five years, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
In a January survey of the group's 1,600 members, 48% of respondents noted a spike in court cases; 39% said the number of cohabitation agreements was rising. Most such agreements (similar to a prenuptial agreement, but with no wedding) are drawn up for unmarried, heterosexual couples, the group says, while 30% are for same-sex couples.
For young couples who have never been married, cohabiting may seem like a hassle-free way of testing a relationship before tying the knot. And for those who already have been through a divorce, who have children or other significant assets, cohabiting may seem like a way to avoid costly legal entanglements if the relationship doesn't work out.
More and more, such couples' assumptions are mistaken.