You know the story: You move in with someone, start combining your lives. You're not married, but you share expenses, purchase furniture/art, even get pets or have children. You think if it doesn't work out, you can just walk away without the stigma or cost of divorce. Only it is a lot like divorce, and can still be hella pricey.
In an illuminating piece over at money site The Billfold, "Anonymous" details her expenses in the wake of a five-year relationship ending. A portion:
$4.15: Cost of public transportation to take myself and three travel bags to stay with a friend the morning after the break-up
$62.40: Various toiletries and cleaning items I bought to use at my friend's place that I couldn't haul with me when I left
$350: Rent I paid my friend to stay in the guest bedroom of her apartment for most of June
$79.80: Birth control that I had to purchase on my own, which we previously split down the middle
$104.98: Rented U-Haul for a day to move all my furniture and things out of our apartment
$488: Storage unit I am renting through at least the end of August to store said furniture and things
In all, she estimates that the "75% mutual, 25% devastating" split set her back about $2k. And I consider her lucky, because even when breakups are mutual it can turn shitty, and when they are not, even shittier.
GATHER ROUND TO HEAR ME TALE OF WOE
I was like you once, i.e., I had a boyfriend in my 20s. It was casual, carefree, easy as a Sunday afternoon. The only thing we liked more than playing Medal of Honor on PS1 until 3 a.m., getting high, and eating Moose Tracks ice cream was playing GoldenEye on N64, getting high, and eating Moose Tracks ice cream. Obviously it was fated. After college graduation we moved in together.
Eight years later, and many more exciting video games, we got engaged! Figuring we were in this for the long haul because EIGHT YEARS, we bought a house together!
Six months later the relationship was over. DUN DUN DUN.
Hey, it happens. It's not uncommon for relationships that start in college to not weather the growing pains of getting older and becoming a more adult-like person (well, one of us became more adult-like — ANCIENT RETRO BURN STILL FEELS GOOD).
The point is WTF DO NOT BUY A HOUSE TOGETHER. Long, stupid story short: I bought the house twice. Once the first time, and second the second time when I had to refinance it into my name only. This was all during the market crash so again WTF DO NOT BUY A HOUSE TOGETHER.
Minor side rant: When you break up with someone after like, a decade together, and it is super depressing for a while, people feel bad for you but it is NOWHERE NEAR THE SYMPATHY YOU GET WITH A DIVORCE. People may think "bad breakup" but not "life-altering relationship demise oh my god give this person three to six months to be normal again and treat them so so gentle" the way they do for people going through divorce. I hereby recommend that on that list of top most stressful life events, that breakup after cohabitating be included as number three, under #2, divorce.
Of course, your situation could be different and I hope to hell it is. And even if you are only marginally smarter than I was (read: still not that smart), you should still be at least prepared in the abstract to cough up a stupid amount of money just to be done with something that is now so emotionally awkward/awful that you don't even care what it takes you just need to get as far the fuck away as possible. That could be true with legal documents or not.
Within three years, about 40 percent of cohabitation sitches end in marriage anyway, but another 32 percent keep on cohabitating. Trust me, this is not a pro-marriage argument, though. What I advocate for is an easy way to split your shit when you don't get married, you know, uh, like a legal document?
Luckily, that exists. It's called a cohabitation agreement, and I strongly recommend with laser-perfect hindsight that anyone considering throwing mostly in with someone take a look at the particulars. In a recent NYT piece about the trend of devising such agreements, we learn that people use them to detail everything from how they'll split expenses, to who gets the house, and other assorted issues.
Frederick Hertz, a lawyer with offices in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., said that most of the cohabitation agreements he draws up concern only property and financial assets, and fall into two categories: those that prevent couples from going after each other's assets if they part ways and those that provide financial security for the lower-earning partner after a breakup.
"I've done several where the woman is giving up her career to raise kids, and what we wanted to do is establish a safety net," said Mr. Hertz, who is the author of "Counseling Unmarried Couples: A Guide to Effective Representation."
I know what you are thinking! That's basically marriage! Well, the sooner you start thinking of living with someone as "basically marriage" you will be on the right track to a happy relationship full of un-mortgaged love, video games and ill-advised ice creams. And that is the point. Living together is decidedly not marriage for many excellent reasons, but given the level of commitment that sharing your bathroom with someone takes, both financially and emotionally, it's only smart to realize that if the risk is basically marriage, then the breakup is basically divorce. Godspeed.
Image via Getty.