How To Draft A Dating Contract

If you’re planning on moving in with your partner, consider drafting a dating contract beforehand that protects both of you financially and helps set defined relationship goals for the future.

By Matt Schneiderman

s more and more couples forgo marriage for cohabitation, the need for formal, written agreements — intended to codify the terms of the relationship and make arrangements to protect both parties, should the relationship come to an end — arisen. These agreements, or “dating prenups,” range from enforceable legal contracts to scribbled notes
When it’s in writing, it’s a mutually agreed-upon document.
on the back of utility bills. No matter how official they may be, though, these dating contracts serve to provide peace of mind for both parties and ease the pain in the event of a breakup. Here’s what to consider when you and your partner are ready to put it in writing.

Defining the Nature of Your Relationship
Hopefully, the decision to create a written agreement together is indicative of a serious, committed relationship. Even better, the process of putting things down on paper helps clarify for both parties what your relationship status means and define your future goals as a couple. “When it’s in writing, it’s a mutually agreed-upon document,” says Prenups for Lovers author and New York City-based matrimonial attorney Arlene Dubin. “You’re both literally on the same page.” Are you exclusive? Buying property? Expecting? Entering into a new phase of your relationship could spur a conversation about where you are now — and where you’re going down the road together as a couple.

Setting Relationship Goals
A dating contract helps outline the purpose of your relationship and serves as a kind of road map for navigating through difficult times when they arise. Tony DeRosso, a Redondo Beach, CA-based relationship counselor, provides his clients with dating contract templates containing pre-written questions regarding where the relationship should be in six months to five years. The questions cover everything from how fights will be handled and what each party’s triggers are to setting a timeline for marriage. (One question example: “What topics are taboo and off-bounds and will not be brought up during an argument?”)

Dividing Financial Obligations
While many items in your dating contract might be agreements of intent, such as relationship goals and timelines, any financial matters should definitely be formalized. Money is frequently a source of conflict for both unmarried and married couples. Therefore, avoid any unnecessary financial miscommunications by establishing well in advance who pays for what when dividing any shared expenses. How would you prefer to split the rent or mortgage payment — 50/50 or 60/40? Who pays the electric bill? What arrangements are in place should one party be unable to have his or her money ready in time when the bills arrive? And, more importantly, what about joint property issues? “There needs to be something in writing addressing any joint property issues — first and second homes, for example — as well as joint bank accounts and anything else of significant value,” suggests Dubin. “If one party is financially supporting the other — as in, one partner is in school, or sorting out his or her life — then there should be an agreement as to whether there should be reimbursement paid to the supporting party in the future.” If you prefer to consider financial support by one partner as a gift, say so; otherwise, make specific, businesslike arrangements to ensure timely repayment in the future, regardless of the relationship’s status.

Listing Joint Purchases
For couples moving in together, it’s important to take inventory of any joint purchases made in advance of your move and plan for any future big-ticket items within the agreement. This section should cover anything purchased for the shared living space and outline who gets to keep what in the event of a breakup. “Make a financial agreement,” says Dr. Tina B. Tessina, Long Beach, CA-based psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again. “Make a plan, for instance, that says for any purchases made over $300, one will buy the other out for 50 percent of the purchase price if you decide to split.”

Sharing Parental Responsibilities
For couples with children from prior relationships, issues of parenting responsibility should definitely be included. “You may agree to take your partner’s child to school, for instance, but what happens if something
You would have no rights to make decisions in an emergency situation.
goes wrong?” asks Tessina. “You would have no rights to make decisions in an emergency situation.” Specify in the contract how you’d like to handle medical situations and list acceptable discipline methods: “Parents are reluctant to give up power, and kids aren’t amenable to a new adult coming in and telling them what to do,” says Tessina. Lorne Caplan, 45, of New Rochelle, NY, has been in a serious relationship for six years; she and her partner have a blended household containing five children. “Our dating contract focuses on the kids and how to keep them from getting hurt,” says Caplan. “We specifically denoted that no aggression, slandering, or bad-mouthing would be tolerated — and attached penalties for these behaviors if they do occur.”

Caring for Pets
Pets can pack more of an emotional punch than virtually any other asset a couple shares; therefore, treat any dogs, cats, birds, snakes or guinea pigs lovingly when drafting your dating contract. Confirm each party’s responsibilities — including feeding, cleaning, vet visits and so on — and divide the time and financial costs associated with them accordingly. How you decide to handle your pets’ ownership in the event of a breakup is crucial. “Agree to shared custody,” says Tessina. “And include language along the lines of, ‘and if we can’t agree on joint custody, then we will abide by the decision of an arbitrator.’”

Keeping Things Civil
In the event of a breakup, why not make like Hollywood celebrities do: plan to announce your agreement to part ways amicably. Go one step further by including a nondisclosure clause to keep each other from alienating mutual friends or assigning blame. And decide now how you’ll deal with future potentially awkward situations, like a friend’s wedding or other event. “If you don’t want to be around each other, there should be a plan for notifying either party of who’s going to what and when,” says Tessina.

Making Your Contract Legally Binding
A signed agreement is a de facto contract and is legally binding provided that it doesn’t violate public policy (i.e., no language regarding sex), so the clause regarding who gets to keep the sofa in the event of a breakup could be enforceable by law. However, couples in serious relationships with significant moral or financial issues — i.e., shared homeownership, business investments, or children — should have their dating contract reviewed by an attorney. “Without a legal document, unmarried people have no safety net,” says Dubin. “All relationships end — whether it’s by a breakup or in death. But with a more formal agreement in place, both of you will be protected.”

New York City-based freelance writer Matt Schneiderman has written for Stuff and Sync.
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