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Unmarried couples might face unique challenges upon breaking up

Over the last few generations, family and relationship dynamics have undergone significant change. Today, it's not uncommon for couples to live together and purchase major assets (such as vehicles or houses) without getting married. Although the decision to live together and comingle finances may be practical during a relationship, navigating the details of a break up can be particularly challenging for unmarried couples in this situation.

Being in a long-term relationship can be very exciting and rewarding. However, before taking the step of making a big purchase together or moving in, it may be helpful to discuss the possibility of creating a legal agreement to divide assets if it ever becomes necessary.

By getting married, couples can take advantage of numerous legal protections. Exchanging vows also provides a legal framework for splitting up. Taking time to discuss the particulars of a potential break up and getting certain agreements in writing isn't necessarily dooming a relationship. Rather, two people who love each other should understand that splitting up without a clear plan (or legal protections) to split assets can create a lot of stress and heartache down the road.

Some unmarried couples may agree to split expenses in half during the course of their relationship. Although this is practical and can make asset and property division somewhat easier, this agreement might not hold over time. If one person starts making more car payments than his or her significant other, the task of distributing that asset can be much more without a formal divorce process.

Couples don't have to rush into marriage to afford themselves these basic legal protections. Instead, taking the time to consider the possibility of what could happen if the relationship ends with a family law attorney can prove to be valuable -- both financially and emotionally.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, "How to Share Money Before Exchanging Vows," Kimberly Palmer, Nov. 26, 2013

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