A new poll by Time Magazine and the Pew Center indicate that 40% of Americans believe that marriage is outdated. According to the article, in 1978, when divorce rates were higher than they are today, only 25% of us believed that marriage was antiquated.
We have likely all observed among our own friends and family the trend towards long term romantic partnerships, in lieu of marriage.
There are probably a number of reasons for this shift. The high divorce rates of the past may make later generations tepid on the idea of marriage. Those who have been divorced may opt out of marriage the second time around.
The questions from a family law perspective are these: How does the law in North Carolina currently treat unmarried domestic partners? How are the laws going to adjust to meet the reality of long-term romantic relationships without marriage?
Currently in North Carolina, there are not many protections provided to non-married domestic partners. Issues from child custody to financial support to property rights offer little protection for long-term partners at the end of a relationship.
At this time, the best way to protect unmarried domestic partners is the creation of a contract between the parties setting forth how things will be handled if and when the relationship ends. Think of it as a pre-nup (pre-nuptial or ante-nuptial agreement in legalese) for people who do not want to get married.
I will devote some future posts to explaining where the law currently stands in North Carolina and ways that unmarried couples can plan ahead to protect themselves in the event of a break-up.