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How can couples who live together account for shared property, assets and debt

According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2012, roughly 47 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 18 were not married. Of single U.S. adults, nearly 40 percent are divorced while the remaining 60 percent have never been married. Statistics from 2011 show that an estimated 12 percent of adult U.S. couples who live together are not married.

As evidenced by these statistics, more American couples are both choosing to forego marriage and choosing to live together while unmarried. Cohabitating couples fulfill and share many of the same roles and responsibilities as married couples. From purchasing a home together and sharing household expenses to sharing bank and savings accounts, much like married couples; cohabitating couples readily share assets, property and debts. The difference, however, is that individuals in cohabitating relationships are much more vulnerable to financial loss in the event a relationship ends.

In the eyes of the law, a marriage is a contract and a divorce signals dissolution of that contract which in turn signals the courts to take legal action to rectify how marital property and debt should be divided. Similarly, cohabitating couples can take measures to establish a cohabitation agreement that accounts for each individual's "rights, obligations and how property is to be distributed."

Akin to a prenuptial agreement, a cohabitation agreement should contain provisions related to how assets, property and debts should be handled both during and in the event a relationship ends. Additionally, cohabitation agreements can be used to dictate terms of property ownership in the event one partner dies.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Nonmarital Agreement & Living Together Contracts," 2015

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