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Divorce Rate Plummets As More Americans Shack Up Instead of Getting Married

More Americans are taking "til death do us part" seriously. According to the recently released Rutgers University National Marriage Project the number of divorces is declining. But the lower divorce rate is largely because couples are postponing, choosing not to, or are legally unable to get married. Like Oprah Winfrey and Stedman Graham, and Elton John and David Furnish, these 11 million unmarried couples are in committed relationships and sharing financial obligations, but aren't entitled to the 1,140 federal laws that apply to married couples.

"Although unmarried couples don't receive federal protection like married couples, documents can be developed to mirror some of those protections, not just if you break up, but in the event of the death or incapacitation of one of the partners" says Debra Neiman, CFP® and co-author of Money Without Matrimony. "From creating a durable power of attorney to making sure jointly held property is correctly titled, it takes work for unmarried couples to protect themselves financially, but it's well worth the effort."

According to Current Population Reports the average American will spend the majority of their life unmarried and those people will likely partner, live together and enter financial commitments with another person. Neiman, with co-author Sheryl Garrett, CFP® caution these couples to do the necessary paperwork and planning while the relationship is good.

"No matter how temporary or permanent the relationship, it's easier making financial decisions about the future of your relationship while you're still in love," says Garrett. "Because there are no laws to protect finances for unmarried couples ? barring states that recognize common law marriages ? planning today makes a possible break up tomorrow easier, financially speaking."

And planning is not just for romantically involved couples.

"Whether romantically involved, or not, the issues are the same," says Neiman. "Everything needs to be in writing including who pays what bills, how rent will be paid and who gets what if the two of you part ways."

Al Martin is a freelance writer covering real estate, personal finance and investing topics.

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