More signs of the times: Politics/Finances/Cohabiting - 1026/08

Smartmarriages smartmarriages at
Sun Oct 26 13:03:10 EDT 2008



Where did our love go?  Seems that couples in these interesting times are
facing two challenges that lead more and more to ask "Who is this person I
married?  I thought I was with my soul mate, but it turns out we are SO
DIFFERENT." Michele Weiner-Davis takes us for a spin through her own
marriage in a blog many could have written - can't count the numbers that
have told me you and your spouse will be cancelling out each other's vote
next week.  And, it's not just the married. Cohabiting couples are breaking
up as they head to the polls and the ATM.  I had two Dr Romance letters this
month from people ending cohabiting relationships who both said, in effect,
that they were "so glad they hadn't made the mistake of marrying the person
they were living with before this election and financial meltdown showed
their true colors". They were each asking for advice about how to figure
this out in advance, before they made that same mistake, again.  Maybe Van
Epp needs to retitle the book: "How to Avoid Moving In With A Jerk".  And
according to article below, the courts are also feeling the pain.  - diane



Michele Weiner-Davis on Psychology Today Blogs at:


You've sent dozens of articles pointing to the increased need for help for
couples trying to adapt to the deepening financial crisis.  Money is like
sex, if things are going well it's not a big deal, but when money styles
aren't meshing, the pain dominates.  I'll not reprint the articles as I know
they're in all your papers but do suggest you listen to two recordings from
the San Francisco conference about money add-ons that work with ANY marriage
education program.  It will help you offer couples relevant help.

Also, send me any leads for MONEY programs we should add to the Orlando
Smart Marriages conference.  WHAT do you find helpful in your setting?  -

Order the recordings at
Or at 800-241-7785  (You can download for instant listening on the website).

Order the programs on the Smart Marriages Directory:

> #758-311 - Money Habitudes: The Last Taboo ­ TOOB
> Syble Solomon, MEd
> A unique card deck to gives couples & individuals life-changing insights into
> their attitudes about money. Teach groups, use with individuals, couples,
> youth, or add to any marriage program.

> #758-515
> Money Education Program ­ FOOB
> Bill Bailey, PhD, Sharon Burns, PhD, CPA, Rebecca Wiggins
> Learn how to help couples improve their financial well being by learning about
> money. This grant-funded program provides FREE web-based training and
> resources for use in your community.



> Every cohabiting couple should put on paper what they feel in their hearts and
> have been assuming in their heads, Hertz said.
> "If ain't on paper," he said, "it ain't real." . . .

> In the end, the judge ruled Grgich's money was a gift made in the course of
> the relationship. His take: $0.

Cohabiting couples' splits test the courts
Without contract, dividing property, pets can be messy

By Janell Ross
October 25, 2008

It's not the oldest story in the book, but it's an increasingly common one:
Boy meets girl, falls in love, moves in, acquires assets.

Then boy and girl break up and, without the established legal path a divorce
would provide, sue each other to get what's theirs.

As the number of adults who opt to purchase homes, have children and start
businesses together without getting married rises, these types of
"common-law kerfuffles," as some courthouse observers call them, are testing
the legal system's ability to adapt to new ways people live.

"After the split, some of them have to come to court and resolve what's left
between them ‹ that's the property," said Judge Bill Higgins, a senior
Davidson County General Sessions Court judge on the bench since 1980. "Who
gets the TV and who gets the bedroom suite and who gets Fido."

These sorts of cases started appearing on his docket about 10 to 12 years
ago, Higgins said, and they've steadily increased. There's no way to get
actual numbers because civil cases aren't sorted by plaintiff and defendant
relationships, but the rise is in line with a demographic trend outside the

As many as 70 percent of the nation's married couples lived together before
marrying, said Pamela Smock, a demographer and sociologist at the University
of Michigan's Population Studies Center.

"It has become the majority phenomenon," said Smock, who specializes in
family pattern changes. "It's not dating, engagement, marriage. It's now
dating, living together, engagement and maybe marriage."

There are about 6.2 million cohabiting couples living in the United States
and 120,413 in Tennessee, according to a 2007 U.S. Census estimate. In
Middle Tennessee, Davidson, Rutherford and Wilson counties saw dramatic
increases ‹ ranging from 20 percent to 80 percent ‹ from 2006 to 2007.

Unions end in court

Some cohabit for practical reasons ‹ they can't afford to live on their own
‹ Smock said, and the current economy may prompt more such cases.
Nationally, about 12 percent of them are gay.

Many come from broken homes and fear a messy or painful legal split. With
most couples living together before marriage, there's less of a social
stigma now.

And while some of these unions will result in marriage, others will end like
Mark Ownby and Sabrina Oberlander's did. Court documents show Ownby believed
his ex-girlfriend would sign over sole ownership of their Percy Priest
Lake-area house when she moved out. Oberlander thought Ownby would pay the
mortgage and hand over her prized and practical possessions ‹ her childhood
Christmas ornaments; the washer and dryer; and the cats, Mr. Kitty and

Instead, the one-time cohabiting couple were ordered in August to stay away
from each other. Oberlander filed a civil suit against Ownby in September.
The house wound up near foreclosure, and Ownby and Oberlander have been in
and out of court.

"This has really been unbelievable at points," Ownby said. " ... I mean, we
had verbal agreements about everything. Then, the next thing I know, there's
this suit."

A number listed for Oberlander wasn't working last week, and her attorney
declined to comment on the case or make Oberlander available for comment
because the case is still pending.

A 'risky' proposition

Unmarried people living together are buying houses, having children,
starting businesses, and moving into second and third relationships in which
they live with their significant others, said Helen Sfikas Rogers, a family
law attorney in Nashville with 28 years' experience. Still, their approach
to these relationships tends to be simple and hopeful.

"Prenups are pretty popular around here," said Rogers, who was voted "best
of the family law bar" by Nashville lawyers this year. "But I've not had
people call me and ask beforehand what they can do if their boyfriend kicks
them out. I wish they would because living together, at least legally, is
pretty risky."

Rodgers said she gets about one call a month from someone who needs legal
advice after a shack-up and breakup. A decade ago, she got one to two calls
like that a year.

Real estate is an issue

Most disputes between cohabiting couples involve real estate, said Frederick
Hertz, co-author of Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples.
The book and CD, and a similar book that Hertz helped write, A Legal Guide
for Lesbian and Gay Couples, offer advice and contracts covering everything
from property to health care that can be printed, easily adapted and even
executed without an attorney.

Hertz's day job is real estate law. In his California practice, 70 percent
to 80 percent of his income comes from real estate cases involving
cohabiting couples in which both parties are on the deed or only one party
is on it but both helped pay the mortgage.

When the cases go to court, judges don't have the long history of divorce
case law or a well-established set of rules. Instead, they try to sort
though the relationship refuse and boil the cases down to a simple matter of
contract or partnership law.

"In that case, I've got bad news for people," Hertz said. "In the absence of
(a written) agreement, you made a gift."

No one has to tell that to Frederic Grgich, a Nashville builder and one-time

In 1998, Grgich purchased a home with his fiancée near Belmont University.
Grgich said there was a verbal agreement between him and his ex-girlfriend
when they broke up. She would give him back his share of the down payment
and at least some of the renovation costs ‹ which the couple kept in a
ledger. He also kept receipts.

Months passed. The money never came. Grgich filed suit seeking $46,000 or
equity in the home. Grgich thought it was a straightforward property issue,
so he hired a real estate lawyer.

She hired a divorce lawyer.

The two-day trial that followed included testimony from friends and Grgich's
former business partner. There were pictures of a kitchen renovation.
Stories about their sex lives were aired.

In the end, the judge ruled Grgich's money was a gift made in the course of
the relationship. His take: $0.

Ex-girlfriend Kathy Capps, who now lives in Nantucket, Mass., did not
respond to a request for comment this week.

Every cohabiting couple should put on paper what they feel in their hearts
and have been assuming in their heads, Hertz said.

"If ain't on paper," he said, "it ain't real."

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