An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

  • We’re engaged to be married-what happens if it doesn’t work?
  • I’m happily married; now we’re buying a co-op with my money-does it matter whose name is on the lease? Should my children have the right to sell the apartment if I die first?
  • We’re been living together for six years and we don’t want to marry-she’s paying the rent and I bought the furniture. We have a joint bank accounts but separate credit cards. What happens if we split up?

Intimate Relationship Agreement (“Leavin IRA”)

Strengthen your relationship NOW!

Intimate Relationship Agreement (IRA)*

Do It Better the Next Time Around–Get Protected!

You or your best friend had a horrible, painful, depressing and expensive breakup of a marriage or intimate relationship. Now you’re getting involved again. How do you protect yourself in case things go south?

Invest a little time and write an Intimate Relationship Agreement (IRA) with your other. It doesn’t have to become nasty, you might learn something about each other, and in the worst case you’ll have some insurance if you two split up.

  • Prenuptial Agreements (often called Prenuptual Agreements), or Prenups, for couples planning to marry.
  • Postnuptial Agreements (often called Postnuptual Agreements), for married couples who are planning major lifestyle changes, i.e., buying a house, having a child, relocating.
  • Cohabitation Agreements, for unmarried people living together who do not plan to marry, for domestic partners, or gay and lesbian couples who cannot now marry in New York State.

Everybody Needs One

Planning a future with your finance, lover, roommate, spouse or significant other? If so, consider a written and legally binding agreement with your other half: an Intimate Relationship Agreement.

We’ve all had some experience with written, signed, and legally binding agreements in a commercial context: a real estate lease or employment contract, a union agreement or insurance policy, a retainer agreement or retail store warranty, a loan agreement or deposit on future purchase, etc. These are generally contracts between strangers, often for one transaction or a short period of time.

But INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP AGREEMENTs govern personal relationships, which are different not only because different issues are important and different laws may apply, but because there’s a complicated history between the parties, a long future is usually contemplated, and there is often more at stake, emotionally and financially.

Partners In Business vs. Partners In Life

If we decide to partner-up with someone in a business, most of us would insist on a Partnership (or Joint Venture) Agreement reviewed by an attorney to 1) spell out how the business and partnership relation would work when things were going well, and 2) how the partnership would end and be divided up if things went badly. The goals are the same for an INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP AGREEMENT but most couples, especially younger ones, don’t feel it’s needed. Whether this is optomism or wishful thinking doesn’t matter. Better safe than sorry, is the operative cliche.

In New York State, for example, the Courts consider marriage, among other things, an economic partnership, and certain laws control what happens to a couple’s assets and liabilities when a marriage ends. But it’s exactly the other things in personal relationships that make written and formal agreements so tricky, and that require sensitive professional help.

We all hope that our intimate relationship/partnership will succeed, and that we’ll be able to collaborate productively and informally to make decisions as a couple, far into the future. But no matter how long the relationship lasts, there are potential long-term benefits (and some risks) to negotiate an INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP AGREEMENT now. Whether you are contemplating a Prenuptial Agreement (Prenuptual Agreement) or a Cohabitation Agreement, or some other type of contract, doesn’t matter. The basic principles are the same.

Potential Benefits

  • Protect someone who feels financially vulnerable; giving peace of mind.
  • Clarify how the relationship will work.
  • Diminish the fears and mistrust for one or both of you.
  • Help explore the unstated assumptions for each person in a relationship.
  • Protect you from attack and abuse if the relationship ends badly.

These Leavin IRAs can be comprehensive/global, or they can address only one area or issue of concern. They can cover as much or as little territory as you can agree on.

For example:
If the relationship continues:

  • Do we keep our bank accounts separate?
  • Do we move out of our apartments and buy a home together?
  • Who stays home with the children we hope to have?
  • Who stays home with the children we already have?
  • Can I take a vacation alone every year?
  • Are you going to work with me on my small business to help it grow?
  • Do we promote a religious upbringing for our child?
  • Do we revise this IRA after ten years?

If the relationship ends:

  • How do we divide the growth (appreciation) in our retirement accounts?
  • Who gets to stay in the apartment?
  • What do we write in our Last Will and Testament?
  • Do you get all the money?
  • What about my daughter from my first marriage?
  • Will you pay me some temporary financial support?
  • How can we divide our country house?
  • If I help to grow your business, am I compensated financially?
  • Do I get compensated for working while you stayed in school?
  • Who keeps the fancy bedroom set?

Remember that nothing two parents agree to about children is binding on a Judge; even so, it should be useful to discuss the future care and raising of your children (already here or planned).

It may be useful to discuss other lifestyle questions: who does the dishes when company comes? how much do we spend on window treatments? do we get a dog or cat or bird, or no pet at all? But most of the time, if you can’t work out these smaller issues in the give-and-take of everyday conversation, the relationship is on shaky ground.

On the other hand, deciding what neighborhood to live in is a lifestyle question so big that you might want to discuss it now—and if you can agree, include that decision in your IRA. Such written agreement might be helpful later on, if the two of you can’t decide where to live.

Pitfalls to Avoid

The emotional risks are manageable if you acknowledge them up front.

  • Unlikely eventualities should not become issues of fierce contention.
  • The process of negotiating should not diminish trust and love.
  • You should face the possibility of a break-up.
  • You should expect a surprise or two about your other.
  • You should not be indimiated or rushed.
  • You should avoid adversarial attorneys who wrongly magnify differences and increase tension.

Collaboration, Negotiation, Litigation …War

There is no guarantee you can avoid these pitfalls, but the potential benefit outweighs the risk for many couples.

Some attorneys snarl and bark to impress their clients: I’m a Bulldog, I’m a Shark, I’m a Gunfighter. But different circumstances require different approaches. The cartoonish Matrimonial Attorney played by George Clooney in the movie Intolerable Cruelty was wonderfully entertaining, and effective in his way. Some attorneys actually aspire to that style. But for negotiating most IRAs, that shark approach is wrong; unless you’re like Donald or Ivana Trump, and relationship has its own special meaning.

Some experts say that each person must first hire their own, separate attorney, and then the two attorneys must battle in the adversarial model. This is wrong. You can do it that way, but you don’t have to.

IRAs Must Be Negotiated With Sensitivity

Parties in love are usually less adversarial than typical litigants, and collaboration is more likely. This observation may seem obvious, but requires a shift in gears that some attorney/litigators cannot make.

You should do some investigation alone.

  • Explore the websites, read the articles, talk to friends, and consult with a knowledgeable professional individually to decide what kind of agreement you need. Then …
  • either you each find your own attorney, or you go together and hire a neutral, sensitive and experienced mediator to try and help you both negotiate a Draft Agreement. Then …
  • either you work separately with your respective advocates, or consult with your own professional to review the mediator’s Draft Agreement. Then …
  • meet together with the mediator to negotiate a Final Agreement, or have a four-way meeting with the two separate attorneys to finalize the IRA.

There is little to lose through investigation…and a great deal to gain.

The process may sound more cumbersome than it turns out to be. We do this type of negotiating all the time in our daily lives; but speaking and writing formally about the details of an intimate relationship can feel awkward at first.

Remember: until the IRA is signed in a formal way, it’s not binding. Until that moment, either you or your other can stop the process. After the IRA is executed—formally signed—then it is binding according to its terms, and only with a written, formal revocation (or termination event) can the IRA be ended.

Good luck,
Paul Leavin