Lis and the Single Girl: Prenups, Without the “Nup”

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Single and fabulous? Well then this is the column for you!

Ever wish you had your own personal Carrie Bradshaw to answer your questions — not just about what to do if your boyfriend dumps you via text message — but serious issues that confront us? This special daily edition of “Lis on Law” will address topics that single women are faced with and that everybody wonders about — but no one has time to figure out.

Between work, working out, dating and maintaining a social life, it’s tough to find time to do much else. So, read up and prepare to be fully armed for brunch this weekend with your friends with some super conversation topics! Your pals will be amazed!

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My boyfriend and I have been living together for several years and are now breaking up. Who keeps the stereo, couch, furniture … need I go on?

We’ve discussed signing prenups to protect your assets if marriage is in your immediate future (• see previous Lis on Law and Single Girl ), but what about if you’re just living with your sweetheart? Several of you wrote to me about potential financial obligations for just cohabitating with your partner, if and only if, your long lost love — well, doesn’t last too long.

During my quest to find the answer, I read many stories online about the plight of women who excitedly moved in with their honey, only to find the relationship was not a match made in heaven. There are several misconceptions I want to clear up about living together. First, there’s the myth that two people live as cheaply as one. The second, that if your emotions and love are on the line, your finances are safe since you’ll take care of each other. But I have a news flash — when you’ve picked up your life to move across country only to find that it’s not “working out,” and this happens days after you relinquish your apartment back home, you realize these two neatly packaged sentiments just aren’t true. Sadly, as most of us have learned at one time or another, love does not always conquer all.

There are almost six million couples cohabitating and on average after five years 55 percent have married, 35 percent have broken up and 10 percent still live together. Those aren’t great odds. The primary hazard of cohabitating with your beau is that the law offers almost none of the financial or legal protections that marriage ensures. So, if the law won't help us, it’s time to help ourselves! The latest trend for the cohabitators? A contract of your own. Think of it like a “prenup” but without the “nup.” The document clearly spells all ownership and financial obligations for those living with a partner, not spouse.

I know it’s not sexy to discuss a “let's sign a financial contract” as you move in, but it may be the most important conversation you have. Most couples are probably rolling their eyes at this point in the column because they believe moving in together is a prelude to marriage, so this kind of contract seems A) unromantic and B) frivolous. But, cohabitators also embark on financial entanglements like joint bank accounts, joint purchases of big ticket items like couches, flat screen TVs, cars and that European vacation without thinking twice. I’m here to tell all you lovely ladies who wrote to me, think twice!

The advantage of setting up a live-in agreement of sorts is significant as most courts won’t enforce oral contracts. Here’s brief contract cohabitation 101:
1) Because unmarried cohabitants don’t enjoy the same rights as married couples, particularly with respect to property rights, the first step is to figure out who gets what in the housing department. According to Frederick Hertz, a lawyer who specializes in the formation and dissolution of non-marital relationships, first answer the question of “what’s mine, what’s yours and what’s ours.” Hertz says this is important if you decide to share or buy a car or other titled property. One person’s name may be listed on the title, but if both people mutually share an item, make sure it’s in writing.
2) For items that aren’t titled, but may have considerable value, it’s a good idea to specify ownership. This becomes especially important if the item is gifted. Is that your swanky new stereo or does it belong to both of you? Figure it out or the decibel level of the fight may be higher than the audio system.
3) Ah yes, debt protection. One or both of you may enter this new situation with debt. Most of us acquire it at some time in our life, so it’s important to decide if you’re managing the debt separate or helping each other out.
4) And finally, earning protection. Many couples don’t earn equal pay. If you were married, those earnings are considered joint, but for the non-betrothed, it’s important to set up an arrangement that works for you. Dorian Solot, an author on the issue, advises couples to “figure out which expenses will be shared, which won’t be, and if you’re going to split the expenses 50-50 or figure out a ratio based on incomes. It might seem fair that the higher earning partner should pay more, but not everyone sees it that way.”

Bottom line — It’s important to hash out these issues, whether or not you decide to enter into a “contract.” Just like a marriage, it’ll force you and your sweetheart to consider the obstacles — priorities, expenses and expectations (not to mention who cooks and who cleans). As one writer put it’s best, although it’s common to look at cohabitation as a test drive of all the basic issues in life (making sure not to ignore who picks up the dirty socks and pizza boxes … what is it with men and socks anyway?), it’s really a chance to make sure you’re on the same road for the long haul. If you make it through these conversations, dinner with his family will never be a problem!

• Have a question for Lis? E-mail her and check back tomorrow for another edition of "Lis and the Single Girl."

• CLICK HERE for yesterday's entry!


• Cohabitation: Background and Trends

• Tips for Cohabitating Couples

• Protect your finances when you move in together

• Safe shacking up

• Break-up may end in court for unmarried couples

* Disclaimer

The information contained in this Web site feature entitled “LIS ON LAW,” is provided as a service to visitors of, and does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney client relationship. FOX NEWS NETWORK, LLC makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this web site feature and its associated sites. Nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of your own counsel.

• E-mail Lis With Your Legal Questions!

Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It. (Watch the Video) To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.