Why soaring numbers of unmarried couples are signing pre-nups

Proposing a prenuptial agreement may seem like a dreadfully unromantic gesture that sets a cautious tone for a lifetime with your mate.

But a new survey has found the contracts are becoming more popular among unmarried couples.

Experts credit the spike to the rising number of couples cohabiting without promise of a wedding.

Cohabiting: A new survey of divorce attorneys shows the number of unmarried couples seeking legal separation of assets is on the rise

Cohabiting: A new survey of divorce attorneys shows the number of unmarried couples seeking legal separation of assets is on the rise

In the event of a split, former live-in partners may also face expensive and complicated court battles over shared assets.

So a type of prenuptial agreement, in which a couple set the terms of their divorce before they marry, has become more common among unmarried couples as well.

A survey found that 48 per cent of divorce attorneys have seen more unmarried couples taking their claims to court over the last five years.

Of the 1,600-member American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 39 per cent report a rise in the number of cohabitation agreements protecting property and other assets for partners not bound by wedlock.

They reported that more couples are realising that without a legal contract at play,  protecting individual stakes in jointly owned property is major cause for concern.

'The litigation between two people who own a house together and aren't married is much more difficult than two married people who are getting divorced,' the organisation's Linda Lea Viken told the Canadian Press.

AAML member, Ken Altshuler added that the agreements were rare and even more controversial as recently as 15 to 20 years ago.

'They're really on the cutting edge of relationships today as more people move in together,' he explained.

'Most people who call me up who are cohabiting, they don't think of it as a traditional prenup,' he explained. 'They think of it in terms of how do I protect my assets?

'Can they come after my share of the house because of his credit card debt?'

The organisation advises cohabitation agreements for unmarried heterosexual couples and same-sex partners alike, especially when children are adopted by only one of the partners.

Roughly  30 per cent of the attorneys who responded to the survey said most of the cohabitation agreements they draft are for same-sex couples.

And despite only a handful of states recognising gay marriage, the agreements can still set parameters for legal rights in and out of state.

However, most of the attorneys surveyed said they were executing the agreements on behalf of heterosexual partners.