Several articles on The Shark Free Zone discuss challenges married or Civil Union couples face. However, their challenges, especially in terms of planning and protecting their families, are minimal compared to cohabiting couples. And before I continue, let me say that not wanting to subject your relationship to institutional constraints is understandable. With the divorce rate in the U.S. between 40-60%, whether you’re a same-sex couple or a straight couple who consciously decides against obtaining legal status for your relationship, your decision ultimately may be more pragmatic. I’m thinking Kurt and Goldie.
However, the decision to cohabit will currently cost you and your partner more than 1100 state and federal government benefits.
The decoupling of these benefits from cohabiting couples results in the above-mentioned challenges. Nevertheless, planning tools exist that are universally applicable, irrespective of your relationship status, tools such as powers of attorney, certain types of life insurance, and certain retirement accounts. Additionally, you and your partner can take other definitive steps to protect your relationship. Furthermore, these steps, which are gender-neutral, can help your family today and tomorrow.
- Prepare A Property Sharing Agreement. One of my favorite TV shows is The Big Bang Theory and, admittedly though Leonard tugs at my heartstrings and I LOL at Raj and Howard’s “bromance,” I identify most closely with Sheldon. Sheldon has a roommate agreement that probably puts most prenupts to shame. Among some of its provisions, is an outline of who owns what, how the asset should be replaced if the other party destroys it, and how property bought together, such as a life-size authentic Time Machine, should be divided if the relationship ceases and one roomie moves out. The cohabiting relationships I’m discussing in this article are, of course, more substantive than roommates, but the premise is the same: list what you own together and separately and acknowledge it on a legally signed document.
- Seek Adoption. If one of you is a biological parent with sole custody of the child, a second-parent adoption by your partner, if he or she is a non-biological parent, is critical. Otherwise that person will have no legal rights if the biological parent becomes incapacitated, dies, or decides to end the relationship.
- Trust the Trust. Both of you place your express intentions in a valid trust. A will can be challenged and the gender composite of your relationship is irrelevant. Nasty courtroom battles have occurred between family members who opposed the surviving partner’s share because of religion, age, or other cultural reasons that had nothing to do with the couple’s gender orientation.
In a nutshell, what must a couple do to protect their non-institutionalized relationship? Document the sharing and put all agreements in a valid contract whose benefits aren’t derived from or through federal, state, or local governments.
Other than that, enjoy your loving and stable family just like everyone else enjoys theirs. In the words of Tommy Llewellyn-Thomas: Noli spurios te contundere.