Unmarried couples that are living together are finding out that breaking up can be just as messy as a divorce. In California and throughout the country, many couples are choosing to live together without getting married, but these couples still adopt the financial burdens of married individuals such as mortgages and other shared debts. Many of these couples have children prior to marriage, which can lead to child support issues once the couple ends their relationship.

A survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that nearly 50 percent of divorce lawyers have reported an increase in the number of court cases between couples that had lived together, but not married. Nearly 40 percent of divorce attorneys surveyed also reported an increase in cohabitation agreements since 2006.

According to U.S. census data, the number of cohabitating couples has increased from about 3 million to 7.5 million in less than 15 years. In addition, the age at which people are marrying has also risen for both men and women.

When people live together for a long period of time without marrying, they often encounter significant legal hurdles after a break-up. For example, a couple that has been living together may have to file separate lawsuits in order to resolve traditional divorce issues such as home ownership, child custody and child support. In a divorce, these issues would be handled as one legal action.

AAML president Linda Lea Viken advises couples who are planning on living together to sign a cohabitation agreement. Similar to a prenuptial agreement, it covers basic financial issues including who pays for what in the relationship and how shared purchases will be divided in the event of a breakup.

Custody of adopted children can also be a complicated issue after a breakup. When an unmarried couple adopts a child, only one parent's name is recorded on the adoption form. The parent who is not listed on the adoption papers has no legal claim to that child and is at the mercy of the other parent to determine custody.

Source: STL Today, "For live-in lovers, breaking up can be worse than a divorce", Aisha Sultan, 16 March 2011