Fewer couples are getting married in America. Only 51 percent of U.S. adults are married and only 20 percent of those aged 18 to 29, according to the Pew Research Center.

But while marriage is down, cohabitation is up. More couples are either not marrying or are living together before tying the knot.

Unfortunately, such living arrangements present a slew of legal issues for the people involved.

As cohabitation has become the norm, the number of legal cases involving disputes among couples who live together has risen in proportion, according to FindLaw.com, the nation’s leading website for free legal information.

For instance, unmarried couples that buy big-ticket items together may run into trouble if there’s a difficult break up. Because there is no legal mechanism such as divorce to help unmarried couples separate their property, they may need legal help to resolve their differences.

So before you say “I do” to living together, consider doing these three things:

  • Keep major purchases separate. If you make a major purchase such as a car, and are making the monthly payments, be sure to keep the title in your name.
  • Set the ground rules. Take time to talk about how you want the relationship to work and what you will do if it doesn’t work.
  • Keep finances separate. Keep separate checking, savings and credit card accounts. Sit down each month and do your bills together. Be clear with each other about who pays for what.

Family law attorneys also recommend couples sign a cohabitation agreement. Few people enter into relationships thinking about the end game. But living together doesn’t always work out as planned.

“You may share many things, from the toothpaste to the purchase of a new flat-screen TV,” says Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney with FindLaw.com. “Keep in mind that you’re still single. You’re not married yet, and in case things don’t work out, you should take some steps to protect your rights and your property.”

This may sound like common sense, but it also makes good legal sense.

— Michelle Croteau, Director, Marketing Communications
with Adam Ramirez, FindLaw Audience Team

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