According to a recent report, the number of unmarried parents who are living together and raising their children has increased in the last decade.

The study tracked births to unmarried American women over a 25-year period. In 1985, that portion accounted for only 22 percent of births. By 2010, however, the share of births had grown to 41 percent. Notably, the researchers described the women as unmarried, rather than single, to account for the phenomenon of a growing number of cohabiting, unmarried parents.

As a law firm that focuses on family law matters, we recognize that cohabitation can present unique issues. As a preliminary matter, cohabitating parents may wish to plan for the contingency of separation. An attorney can help parents take a proactive approach to matters of property division, child support and custody.

In fact, our law firm has helped same-sex couples in such matters, and there are parallels that apply in a similar fashion to unmarried parents. An analogy can also be drawn to separation agreements that married parents might draw up during the pendency of their divorce. Such agreements are usually intended to help maintain a stable environment for minor children until a court can rule on the divorce issues.

The starting point for cohabitating parents should be discussing what terms should be in a legal contract governing how the parents would like to live together. The contract can be far reaching, even including issues like health care decisions and estate planning or inheritance designations. A contract can also clarify real estate ownership and personal property divisions.

Source: Scholars Strategy Network, ” Does It Matter for Children If Their Parents are Married?” Kelly Musick and Katherine Michelmore, Oct. 2015