The division of property after a breakup is never easy, but if you’re living with your partner — or if you’ve purchased a home together — the fallout can be as tough as a divorce, says a new USA TODAY story.
Sixty percent of couples today live together before they marry, the story says, and the number of cohabitation agreements drawn up today is increasing. If a split happens, it’s usually not pretty:
“They have to do everything they’d have to do in a divorce, except maybe not legally, to separate their lives,” says Janet Laubgross, a clinical psychologist in Fairfax, Va. “They’ve built a life together. They have to divide friends. They’ve got to divide property. There are a lot of strong emotions — anger, bitterness, resentment. It’s very similar to divorce.”
Sounds fair. But then the article gets a little bit weird:
A study published online in February in the Journal of Family Issues, based on interviews and focus groups involving 192 people in their late 20s, found marked gender differences.
Women generally saw cohabitation as a transition to marriage, while men used terms such as “test drive” to determine whether there was potential for a longer-term relationship.
Women used “love” as a reason to live together three times as often as men did, while men cited “sex” as a reason to live together four times as often as women did, the study found.
Further up in the story, author Sharon Jayson states:
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.
The story seems a tad skewed toward the “cons” of cohabitation: Try it, and you’ll regret it. Obviously, that’s not the case with all cohabiters, and I sincerely doubt that mature men think they’re going to get a boatload of hot sex out of the deal (divvying up bills and sharing a bathroom: sexy!).
That said, it’s always a good idea to have a deep understanding of what you’re getting into in a cohabitation situation. A few ideas: Keep an emergency fund if anything were to go wrong and you have to leave the apartment on the fly; make sure both partners are contributing equally to the household, depending on their respective incomes; and draw up a cohabitation agreement if property purchases are involved.
Being hasty to label cohabitation “good” or “bad” is counterproductive. Instead, let’s inform ourselves and adjust to the changing times accordingly.
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