According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of unmarried couples cohabitating shot up to 88% from 1990 to 2007. The New York Post reports that this trend has sparked an increase in pre-prenups — cohabitation agreements drawn up to protect each party and their interests should the relationship end.
These agreements are particularly popular in New York where, according to attorney and author Arlene Dubin, common-law marriages aren’t recognized by the state.
“You live together and you think you’re going to be protected,” she explains. “Then the guy dumps you and you’re left high and dry — it’s a pretty bad situation.”
Dubin says that while legal assistance is preferable, informal signed documents or even mutually acknowledged e-mails can serve as binding contracts.
She’s drafted cohabs covering everything from real estate rights to education expenses to partner support to “bad boy/bad girl clauses” that outlaw cheating and drug use. One of the few things that can’t be included in a cohab is a requirement for sex, she says, “Because then it looks like a prostitution contract.”
The article goes on to quote another attorney who gets many requests for cohab agreements. He says the divorce rate is so high that people are petrified of getting married, so a pre-prenup helps them deal with issues if things break up.
Not surprisingly, one of the most common points of negotiation seems to focus on the dog — the “child” of many cohabiting couples:
Allie Herzog, owner of integratePR, gave up her East Village apartment six months ago to move in with her investment banker boyfriend, Eric (who declined to give his last name), in Houston. The roomies soon purchased a puppy and a couch.
“As I began to fall more and more in love with Waffles, I wanted to make sure that he would be mine if we ever broke up,” says Herzog, 25.
So they agreed that, in the event of a split, she would get custody of their pug while her boyfriend would get the couch.
Another couple negotiated this a little differently:
Bouchma and Mohan reconciled a few months ago after a previous breakup, making them more aware of the painful logistics of a separation. This time, they decided to pound out a detailed dog custody agreement.
“In the event we break up, Ajay still gets visitation,” she explains. “For example, he could visit the dog while I was at the gym — or if I go out of town, he would have first choice to watch her.”
This is all so terribly sad. The natural desire to select a mate and share a life together is alive in these 20 somethings. But ignorance of real love and fears of commitment — along with a lack of skill for both — robs them of fuller, richer lives.
For younger people, marriage is a big gamble and the odds are against you. Better to either not go there, or to approach it in stages with as much insurance as you can muster. Marriage is becoming a negotiable and renewable contract for whatever length of time you deem personally helpful, not a life-long, sacred journey with another person.
Photographer Christian Johnston, 48, created what he calls “The Contract” with his then-girlfriend. The two agreed to formally check in every 30 days and accept or decline another month together.
“We’d either re-up or move on. We’d just lay it all on the table,” he explains. “We would say, ‘The end of the month’s coming, we gotta start thinking about the contract. I’m in for another month. You?’ ”