It can seem unromantic or lacking in trust to talk about signing a legal contract before you move in with an intimate partner. Does it start the adventure off on the wrong foot?

Consider that marriage is a serious contract with major legal consequences that, one way or another, last a lifetime.

Living together is simply part of American life

More unmarried Americans are living with an intimate partner under the same roof than ever before. Many decades have passed since anybody, it seems, was serious when they called the arrangement “living in sin.”

A new Pew Research Center poll on American’s experiences with and attitudes toward living together (cohabitation) makes this clear. About 25 years ago, only 3% of Americans adults were cohabitating. Today, this has more than doubled to 7%.

The numbers get serious when we look over entire lifetimes. About 60% of people from 18 to 44 can say they have cohabitated, while only 50% have ever been married.

Normal life gets safer with contracts to protect it

Looking at the kinds of questions “cohabitation agreements” deal with is a good way to understand why people living together might benefit from them. Here are a few items often included:

  • Will you pool your money or keep it separate? Will you split bills like rent, food and utilities 50/50, 25/75 or some other way?
  • What if one of you wins the lottery?
  • If one partner dies in a car accident, for example, will the other get their things and money? What if their family and the surviving partner disagree?
  • If children are born, how would custody, visitation and support work if you split up?
  • If you break up, how would the partner with less income manage? Would the other partner help them land on their feet?
  • If disagreements get serious, how would you settle them? Perhaps mediation, arbitration or litigation?

One, two, or more of these possibilities seems likely to come true. Drafting a solid and enforceable agreement now may help both of you feel more secure during more complicated times.