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Can a “nearly wed” get a divorce?

Marriage has been a topic of much debate this year, with some states permitting same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act. Ironically, at the same time, there is a growing awareness of another trend. In Oklahoma, as well as other states, more and more couples are putting off the decision to get married, and some may not intend to ever marry.

While some may associate this “nearlywed” behavior with famous couples like Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, who have been together since 1983, but have never married, there appears to be an increasing number of couples who move in together and look like their married, but may never have a ceremony or obtain a marriage certificate.

Surveys have found that 25 percent of young couples have purchased a home before they married. Nearly a quarter of births now are to unmarried couples who live together.

Some appear to believe that the marriage certificate is unnecessary and commitment is more important. Some may even think that they can avoid the complications of a divorce, if they are not married.

But if you are not married and your relationship fails, what do you do with the house and the children? The difficulty is that while child support requirements apply whether or not you are married, many issues of property division can be problematical to deal with when there is no formal judicial apparatus to help it along.

You could draw up a contractual agreement in advance, a so-called “pre-prenup,” that would provide a guideline for dividing jointly owned property. When you have purchased a home and had children, you are committed, marriage certificate or not, and the complications will be greater should you ever separate.