In our previous post, we began discussing the difficulty cohabiting couples have in the event of separation, not only emotionally and socially, but also financially.

Cohabitation agreements are one useful tool for avoiding some of the difficulties associated with separation between unmarried couples. A cohabitation agreement is a contract that defines the terms of an unmarried couple's separation in the event that such a separation takes place. A Cohabitation agreement will usually deal with the division of property, who is responsible for debts, how the financial responsibilities are divvied up. Because unmarried couples do not have protection under state law, cohabitation agreements fill a much-needed function.

Cohabitation agreements aren't as common among couples in their 20s, since they usually don't have children and generally do not have a many assets to worry about. They become more common, though, among couples in their mid-30s, who may bring much more to the relationship in terms of legal considerations.

Other forms of legal protection available to cohabiting couples are drawing up a will passing property to one's partner and advance directives indicating the desire of each partner in terms of medical care.

Cohabitation agreements have their benefits and drawbacks. On one hand such an agreement can be an uneasy discussion for some couples and may remove some of the romance and excitement from the relationship, since the agreement will spell out the terms of a potential breakup. On the other hand, some say such agreements are a good way to "formalize" a relationship while avoiding the deeper ties of marriage. Cohabitation agreements can also prevent the parties from coming into a post-breakup situation where they don't have the means to support themselves after giving up a home or other property to make the relationship work.

Average age of first marriage is nearly 30. Newly married couples nowadays generally bring more assets to the marriage than couples in times past, and

While a cohabitation agreement will not prevent heartache, it can help a great deal in laying out the terms of a breakup, and avoid placing each party in a difficult financial situation.

Source: USA Today, "When unmarried couples split, complications follow," Sharon Jayson, 26 April 2011.