Consider This, Unmarried Couples: The "Pre" Pre-Nup

By Vicky Nguyen
|  Tuesday, Mar 2, 2010  |  Updated 6:28 AM PDT
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Call it a "pre" pre-nup. Also known as a “cohabitation agreement,” it’s a contract between couples. You get the dog. I get the couch.

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When good love goes bad, who gets the iPod, the big screen TV or the chihuahua you adopted together? That's the question you may not want to ask when love is first blooming, but it's the question you have to answer when the romance gets rotten.

And that’s led to a new trend, popular in cities where more unmarried couples are cohabitating. Call it a "pre" pre-nup. Also known as a “cohabitation agreement,” it’s a contract between couples. You get the dog. I get the couch.

Tom Plante, a psychologist and professor at Santa Clara University, has counseled enough couples going through nasty splits to know, talking about money and property in the beginning can save a lot of money and property later on.

"It can be open warfare and that means they’re arguing about everything,” Plante says. For some couples, “there's anger, resentment, [and] bitterness. People argue and fight about the smallest things.” 

Linda Hong recently ended a 4-year relationship. Her friend, Nhon Luu, just got out of a 5 and a half year relationship. They say they’ve seen plenty of knock down, drag out breakups with arguments stemming over who gets the weekend bag or the one-of-a-kind thrift shop vinyl record. Hong says she has several friends who no longer date, but share “custody” of their pooches.

Both say they would consider pre pre-nups.

“We always come into things with the best intentions, but sometimes life happens and people split up,” Hong says.

Besides, says Luu, “If you can’t have an honest discussion about something with the person you’re entering something big with, that’s not a good sign, right?”

Family law attorney Bob Tennant says the most bizarre battle he’s mediated involved a collection of Jim Beam bottles. “Both parties wanted the whole collection, so we had to sit down and equally divide the Jim Beam bottles.” They were empty bottles.

Tennant says avoid the Beam battle by having a simple conversation. And you don’t have to get all lawyered up. Informal documents, as long as they are signed by both parties, or even emails that you’ve both acknowledged can be considered binding contracts. But you will want more formal agreements for expensive items, like houses and cars.

And if you think the cohab agreement takes the romance out of things, consider what the counselors say. Talking about things early on may mean a healthier relationship later on. Plante says, “Sometimes having that structure in place can help people ultimately relax. They know the terms of engagement.”

Even if the ‘terms of engagement’ never lead to wedding bells, at least you know who gets the Chihuahua.

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