Up with the pre-prenup!

Cohabiting couples sign "dating prenups" to decide who gets custody of the Ikea furniture

Published February 23, 2010 4:05PM (EST)

The rate of marriage may be on the decline, but shacking up with your sweetheart is as popular as ever. According to the Census Bureau, the number of unmarried couples living together hit 6.4 million in 2007, up from less than a million 30 years ago. Here in New York, land of tiny, overpriced apartments, the cohabitation option looks particularly attractive: You save money, and you don't have to walk-of-shame it back to another borough every Saturday morning. But if that break-up happens, the dreaded arithmetic of separation makes things so much worse. There's the fighting over alarm clocks, the parting of the bookshelves, the negotiations over the Ikea furniture. It gets complicated.

But never fear, all you nesting lovebirds! The New York Post has a solution: The pre-prenuptial agreement. According to matrimonial Arlene Dubin, the latest and greatest legal trend in the Big Apple is "cohabitation agreements," outlines for who gets what in the event of a break-up. Some of the examples are silly, like one couple that has an informal monthly contract, agreeing to check in for another 30 days together. ("We'd either re-up or move on," explained one half of said couple, sounding more like he was discussing his cell phone minutes than his girlfriend.) Another couple hashed out their informal pre-prenup over cocktail napkins, allowing "one episode of drunken pity sex" within 72-hours of their break-up. Dubin wisely notes that requirements for sex can't be included in legal agreements "because then it looks like a prostitution contract," natch.

But however romance-killing the idea of setting down break-up protocol sounds, it's certainly not the most ridiculous suggestion the New York Post has put forth (like, say, spending the night with a "prostidude"). New York doesn't recognize common-law marriages, which means that, legally, unmarried couples are strangers. Having that scrap of paper that says who keeps the apartment might prevent your heartbreak from being compounded by, say, getting kicked out of your co-op or having to cede rights to your beloved poodle. Pre-prenups won't protect your heart, but they might make it easier to protect your stuff.


By Margaret Eby

Margaret Eby has written for the New York Times, The New Yorker, Salon and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she now lives in New York City.

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