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Cohabitating couples face unique legal challenges

There is little doubt these days that the American family is changing. Houston residents can look at their friends and neighbors for proof of this. If further evidence is needed, there is a recent study that from the University of Virginia. Researchers there found that divorce rates for married couples who have children have returned to the level at which they existed before the "divorce revolution" of the 1970s - but mostly because many couples are choosing not to marry in the first place.

Many social factors have led to this shift in the relationships that people choose to form. Some people have bad memories of their parents' divorce and do not want their children to go through a similar experience. Others do not marry for personal, philosophical or political reasons. Also, marriage no longer seems to be the social obligation it once was.

Whatever type of relationship works best for you and your partner is probably the optimal one for you. After all, no one knows you better than you know yourself. Still, couples who choose not to take a trip to the altar should remember that many laws use marriage as the basis for bestowing rights and privileges. Property division after a separation, for instance, often presumes the couple was married before the beak-up. If you were simply cohabitating and then separate, your never-wed status may affect how your assets are divvied up.

If you are cohabitating with someone to whom you are not married, you might want to schedule a consultation with an attorney who practices family law matters. A lawyer who is knowledgeable in this field can offer you some options about what the two of you should do now in the event that you should break up in the future. Thinking about the end of your relationship is not a nice thought, of course, but think of it this way - resolving some issues now might result in a fair and just outcome you are both happy with if (and that's an if) you break up, which would be a much better outcome than a costly and acrimonious court battle, which could be the alternative.

Source: United Press International, "U.S. cohabitation rate eclipses divorce," Aug. 21, 2001.

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