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To live with or not???

Who loses most in a breakup?

Everything looked promising for Lauren Laughead and her boyfriend when they moved from Boston to Dallas in 2002 for his job. They had been living together for nearly four years and were planning to marry. They even bought a town house in Dallas.

But the dream was derailed two years later when her boyfriend ended the relationship. "Since the property was in his name, and he was at fault for the breakup, I just moved out," says Laughead, who handles advertising for a law firm. "I paid off my part of the credit card and left it at that. I had helped pay part of the mortgage for a year. I lost that money. He's got equity."

Her experience illustrates a little-noted peril of cohabitation: the potentially negative financial consequences of breaking up. When unmarried couples who have been living together part company, women are substantially worse off economically than men, according to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Men's household income drops by 10%, while women lose 33%. The percentage of women living in poverty increases from 20% to 30%, while men's poverty level remains relatively unchanged at about 20%.

Women lose more across the board

Even the 33% drop for women strikes some financial experts as too low. "That's a nice statistic, but I think it's far worse than that," says Doris Theune, senior vice president of Bryn Mawr Trust Co. in Bryn Mawr, Pa. "I live in a very affluent area, yet I see women all the time lose out across the board. It's the same as divorce. If women have given up a career, or if they have relocated, then they lose."


More than 40% of American women under the age of 45 have lived unmarried with a male partner at some point, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2000, 9.7 million Americans were cohabiting with an unmarried partner of the opposite sex, while 1.2 million lived with a same-sex partner.

Unlike divorce, cohabitation offers no economic protection for either party. For married couples, there are precedents, formulas and divorce court, says Debra Neiman, a certified financial planner in Watertown, Mass. "For unmarried folks, there is no such playing field. It's up to the couple at the onset, or early in the relationship, to set the stage and make preparations for what would happen in the event of dissolution."

When dreams go awry

Yet starry-eyed young lovers don't like to think of that possibility. "It's amazing how many of my friends in their early-to-late 20s go through this," says Laughead, referring to her breakup. "A lot of us go into a (live-in) relationship with a positive outlook. We think, 'Oh, nothing bad will happen.' The girl typically thinks, 'This is going to be great, we're (eventually) going to get married.'"


Among Laughead's friends, the woman is typically the one who moves out. She must find a place to live and buy furniture. "You realize, 'Oh, my college furniture -- I sold that,'" Laughead says. "Or you have a couch and a headboard and no mattress. Those are expenses you don't think of."

Her ex-boyfriend incurred expenses, too. "When I moved out, all the kitchenware was mine," she says. "He came home and didn't have any kitchen supplies anymore."

But because her boyfriend paid the bulk of the down payment, the town house was in his name. "We figured when we got married, we'd change it to include me," she says. He was also the primary account holder on the utilities. After she left and needed her own telephone and utilities, she had no record of good credit.

Call in the big guns for a big purchase

Unmarried couples who want to buy a home should have an attorney draft a property agreement, says Neiman, coauthor, with Sheryl Garrett, of the forthcoming "Money Without Matrimony." "It could simply say, 'In the event of a breakup, Party A has the right of first refusal to buy the property from Party B.' It could be more explicit and say, 'The purchase price will be based on the average of two or three market appraisals.'"


Some women discover less-obvious economic penalties when cohabitation ends. "They're not saving as effectively for themselves," because they see themselves as part of a team, Allen says.

Women also tend to feather the nest more than men, buying curtains, towels and sheets, Theune says. "That's hard to put a dollar value on."

Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist and relationship expert for perfectmatch.com, advises couples who are thinking about living together to ask serious questions:

  • What are we doing here?


  • Is this an open-ended situation that may not turn into anything?


  • If we love each other, will we marry?


"Just because you don't like the answer doesn't mean you don't need to know the answer," she says.

Dogs and credit cards

In the event of a breakup, Schwartz adds, couples must consider another key question: "What do we owe each other under these circumstances -- money, furniture, dogs?"


Dogs were part of the negotiations when Stacy Katz's first live-in relationship ended. She and her boyfriend had two dogs, and they were a big issue in dividing their property. Each took one.

Since then, Katz, of New York, now a manager for a financial-regulatory service, has had two other cohabiting relationships, each lasting about a year. When the first and third ended, she incurred no serious financial losses.

But with her second boyfriend, she learned a hard lesson after she allowed him to use her credit card. "I was the cardholder, but he had his name on it, too. When I moved away, he ran it up and didn't pay it," she says.

Katz had also co-signed a car loan. After she left, her ex-boyfriend let the insurance run out. He had an accident and couldn't pay for the repairs. "Creditors were pursuing me for a long time for the credit card and car loan," she says. That hurt her credit rating.

Set up joint accounts

To protect both parties, Allen says, the safest approach is to have joint accounts, joint assets and run the household on a budget that both people contribute to, perhaps pro rata, based on income. But even a joint tenancy account carries risks: Either party can empty it out. She suggests an account that requires two signatures -- an "and" account, not an "or" account.


Very often, couples go into these relationships in a state of "glee mania," Theune finds. "By the time the bloom is off the rose, they find themselves in this financial, emotional, psychological bind. Getting out of it is legally easier if you're not married, but the devastation is as harmful." She finds that many women "didn't take time to prepare themselves to leave, financially or otherwise."

One woman she knows relocated to a new city with her boyfriend after they became engaged. When they broke up, she had to move back and find another job. But they did work out a financial settlement to cover what she would need for one year to get re-established.

Higher stakes at midlife

Among younger couples, cohabitation can often involve a lighthearted commitment with lighthearted exits, Garrett says. But as the practice becomes more common among middle-aged couples who may be altar-shy after a divorce, the stakes are higher. "When they were 22, they split up the lawn furniture they were using in the living room. When they're 40 or 50, they often have significant assets and liabilities."


If a couple can't work out the financial aspects of a breakup in a civil manner, Schwartz suggests getting a third-party mediator to help. "If you end up in court, it'll be just awful," she warns. "You might need somebody to talk to, to see if you are due any economic recompense for the relationship. But in general, you signed up for something that wasn't marriage."

Laughead offers her own cautionary note to unmarried couples. "If you're paying toward something, you need to make sure your name is on it somewhere. If the worst-case scenario happens, you want to protect all your assets."

Garrett takes a similarly pragmatic approach. "You need to think of unmarried couples more like business partners," she says. "If you own anything together, or owe anything together, this is your business partner. It's definitely not romantic, but it's very healthy and a smart way to protect yourself and your loved ones."

By Marilyn Gardner, The Christian Science Monitor


I'm not knockin' other people so PLEASE don't think I'm trying to pass judgement on anyone.  I just know that for ME, PERSONALLY...I couldn't be in a "living with but not married to" situation.  How do you all feel about it?


( 88 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 20th, 2006 04:42 pm (UTC)
I couldn't do that either. All those arrangements come with marriage for me.
Jun. 20th, 2006 04:44 pm (UTC)
I live with my girlfriend now. We intend for it to be engagement -> marriage eventually, but it's not that time yet. However, it's not too big a deal in that respect in that we don't really own anything of consequence jointly, so we've still got a pretty clear sense of her shit vs. my shit.
Jun. 20th, 2006 04:46 pm (UTC)
i don't do the "shacking up" thing, for more reasons beyond this...but this is a main reason.
Jun. 20th, 2006 04:47 pm (UTC)
Sad to see people laying claim to other peoples shit instead of making thier own life anew. What a waste of energy that type of crap is...

Its so selfish.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 20th, 2006 06:11 pm (UTC)
Got to have some vision and some planning skills ladies. It's nobody's job to take care of you.

Tell it like it is!
(no subject) - biodance - Jun. 21st, 2006 03:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 20th, 2006 04:56 pm (UTC)
i had a girlfriend live with me and i relocated to live with somebody... neither worked out but, i don't regret either decision, it's just another stop in journey that is my life... bottom line is you handle business correctly... ain't no gaurantees... married or otherwise...
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:05 pm (UTC)
why someone want to live with you and not marry you? Something is missing there.
I have gotten the offer but would not take it. Someone wants the joys of having a wife, then make me one.
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:08 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - kittylarock - Jun. 20th, 2006 05:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hisprophet - Jun. 20th, 2006 05:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Uh huh... - i_dreamed_i_was - Jun. 20th, 2006 05:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Uh huh... - fembot - Jun. 20th, 2006 08:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mmm Hmm... - i_dreamed_i_was - Jun. 21st, 2006 04:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Uh huh... - kanders - Jun. 21st, 2006 12:46 am (UTC) - Expand
Mmm... - i_dreamed_i_was - Jun. 21st, 2006 04:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - littleeva - Jun. 20th, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hisprophet - Jun. 20th, 2006 05:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - littleeva - Jun. 20th, 2006 05:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - toodani - Jun. 20th, 2006 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hisprophet - Jun. 20th, 2006 05:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - toodani - Jun. 20th, 2006 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hisprophet - Jun. 20th, 2006 06:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - toodani - Jun. 20th, 2006 06:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - amour___propre - Jun. 20th, 2006 08:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - toodani - Jun. 20th, 2006 08:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - amour___propre - Jun. 20th, 2006 09:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fembot - Jun. 20th, 2006 09:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fembot - Jun. 20th, 2006 08:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Hmmm... - i_dreamed_i_was - Jun. 21st, 2006 04:55 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:09 pm (UTC)
This is totally superficial, but, though it is cheaper to live with a roommate or two or ten in Boston, I don't think I could live with a boyfriend simply for the fact that he would move out anyway when he saw me have one of my "no makeup, no comb, no brush, no shower" weekends, in old boxer shorts and a tent-size t-shirt... I mean, not that it happens often tho...
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:17 pm (UTC)
We know you are always gorgeous!
(no subject) - kozmicgreys - Jun. 20th, 2006 06:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hisprophet - Jun. 20th, 2006 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rubyphoenix - Jun. 20th, 2006 06:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kozmicgreys - Jun. 20th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:13 pm (UTC)
Meh. I don't get how people just move in with each other all willy nilly. That just seems crazy. I'm not all "OMGZ, Marriage is the only reason folks should be tog3th3R!" either.

If I found a relationship with a person that if it didn't work out, we could still cope and live together (and THAT right there is a rare and a hard thing to maintain) then I'd do the cohabitating thing. But if not, then it'd be best to just keep a few of your thing here and a few of my things at your place... just in case :)

Because once you have a lease and shit, it is serious and I don't need nobody but myself help fuck up my credit.

Of course, I live at home so.. *shrugs* Moms would say no to you stayin' here anyway.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:24 pm (UTC)
white women = say it's wrong but do it anyhow
Black women = are serious
(no subject) - ashatay - Jun. 20th, 2006 05:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:23 pm (UTC)
The best thing to do if you enter a cohabitation situation with a boyfriend or someone you're not married to is to get a contract drawn up about shared assets, etc.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - blackestsheep - Jun. 20th, 2006 05:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:25 pm (UTC)
I don't subscribe to that type of lifestyle. I'd like to have a ring on my finger and such before I make plans to move in.

Jun. 20th, 2006 05:26 pm (UTC)
Didn't do it...
And wouldn't do it, either. There are just some things that I think are the domain of marriage, and some things I would only do with my husband. That includes setting up house together. Maybe it's just symbolic, but it's what makes sense to me. And though I also didn't want to have/didn't have sex before I was married, it wasn't about "avoiding the appearance of impropriety." Because that's no one's business. I just... don't "trust," in a sense, the idea of living with someone without having also committed completely to him (him, in my case, since I'm straight). To ME, it's like... why mix all that when we haven't committed to forever? Seems like a hassle, no matter the savings in rent. But then I can say that, too, since I was married young and didn't live on my own for years and years and years.

I did have to stay with my husband briefly before we were married, when we were engaged. My housing plans fell through and I didn't really have anywhere else to go for a few weeks. But I was living out of a suitcase, not at all eager to set up a household with him until we said "I do." And I hightailed it out of there ASAP. Some of my acquaintances who happened to meet me when I was staying with him (beginning of a semester) were really concerned when they figured out I had moved out-- they thought I had ended the engagement. What can I say? I'm an oddball.

But, like you, I don't pass judgment wholesale on people who live with each other before/without being married (or committed in some way/ceremony/whatever). In some cases, I think it's a bad idea. But then, a lot of marriages are bad ideas.
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:29 pm (UTC)
I don't see getting married again!
I moved in with my boyfriend/partner of nine years with no qualms. I had been married and burned financially before!

For me, it was a matter of being in a relationship yet being financially independent. We bought a house together, with both of our names on the mortgage/deed and we split the bills equally. Him paying the gas/electric/water and me paying the phone/cable/internet. It worked out perfectly, for us.

Granted, he passed away and dealing with the probate issues was a little messy, but no more so than it would have been had we actually been married.

Just my POV

Plus, my family did nag a bit, but they knew that it was my decision and not his to continue on without a wedding.
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC)
Re: I don't see getting married again!

marriage is not the panacea that people make it out to be.

the main reason that i want to marry my boyfriend is that should anything happen to me, my mother's lawyer-filled family can and would descend on south africa to get *everything* from my boyfriend that isn't nailed down.

(these are the same people who sued an 18-year-old out of an inherited beach house, so there is precedent.)

funnily enough, one of the reasons i want to marry my boyfriend is so i can *fix* his credit. it's almost impossible to do that when you aren't married. ugh.
Re: I don't see getting married again! - tericol - Jun. 20th, 2006 06:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: I don't see getting married again! - tericol - Jun. 20th, 2006 06:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:42 pm (UTC)
I think it depends on the situation.

My fiance currently lives in Florida, which is over 800 miles away from where I am. If one of us were to relocate, it wouldn't make sense to go out to a city you're not familiar with and live with someone you don't know. He's moving up here next year, and we're going to be living together. Where else would he live, if not with me?

Plus, for reasons already stated, it's cheaper and more economical, especially if you live in a huge city with an expensive cost of living.

I know people who have done it and had it work out, and I know people who have had the opposite experience. I wouldn't ever rule out cohabitation; people just have to be safe and mindful of their financial assets and situation before they jump into living together. They have to be realistic, too. Break ups could happen, and they have to prepare for that.
Jun. 20th, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC)
See, that was largely our situation, leastwise the relocation part.
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