More Than Money
Issue #30

When Differences Divide

Table of Contents

“Non-traditional Relationships: Words to the Wise”

By Douglas S. Segal

Written agreements are especially important in non-traditional relationships. Unlike formal marriages, nontraditional unions do not automatically have legal protections built in, e.g. some transfer of wealth in the event of divorce or death. In many states, courts are reluctant to enforce oral contracts between non-married co-habitants for financial support or property division (since the courts have nothing to go on but the relative credibility of the two parties), whereas, if called upon, courts will interpret and enforce a written contract. "We lived together for x years and all these promises were made . . ." may be the truth, but without a written agreement to back you up, you won't have much to stand on.

Couples in non-traditional relationships are often reluctant to talk about a written contract when the relationship is going well—for the same reason that people are reluctant to bring up a prenup agreement: They feel it reflects a lack of trust. In my view, it is better for everybody to sit down when you are still on good terms with each other and work something out that protects both of you, rather than leave it up in the air and, later, try to convince a court or third party that you have been wronged. It is much more difficult to reach a fair agreement when things go sour and feelings get hurt. That's just human nature. Whether a couple is gay or straight, married or unmarried, the principles are the same. If you are concerned about protecting your rights, the most prudent course of action is to have some kind of written agreement. It can save a lot of heartache down the road.

— Douglas S. Segal (See his article, also in Issue 30, " Premarital Agreements: Pitfalls and Possibilities ")