BOSTON (CBS) – According to the Census Bureau there are over 8 million couples living together and these are just the ones telling the Census Bureau about it. And about one third of them are over 55.

Nearly 70% of couples that live together for five years or longer do eventually get married but interestingly they don’t have any better luck than those couples that choose to get married in the beginning of the relationship. Their divorce rate is the same 50%. So that old argument about testing the waters doesn’t cut it here.

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With a marriage the law gives the couple certain rights during the marriage and when you want to dissolve it. A benefit of marriage is the ability to divorce.

As an unmarried couple you will need to create those same rights by having agreements on how you will handle your possessions in the future. Many couples have a “marriage by mortgage”. They buy a house together and when they split, they don’t know how to get out of the mortgage.

If you are in a partnership you should keep your finances separate. Each paying their share of the living expenses from their own checking account. Keep tabs on who owns what and who bought what. What did you each bring into the relationship?

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If you buy property together, which is tricky, get an attorney to draw up an agreement as to what you do about the house if you decide to split up. Do you put the house on the market? Can one of you buy out the other? Is it a 60-40 or 50-50 arrangement?

When children are involved it becomes even more complicated. Who gets custody of the children and who will support them? Does the birth certificate name the father and do the children have his last name?

People fight over the damnedest things. A piece of furniture, the family pet. Keep things as simple as you can and if you can’t keep them simple be sure you hire a very good attorney!

One more thing: A good book to read before you move into together would be Money Without Matrimony: The Unmarried Couples Guide to Financial Security by Deb Neiman, CFP, a local financial planner and Sheryl Garrett a CFP in Kansas.

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According to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family when unmarried couples who have been living together part company, women are substantially worse off economically than the men. A man’s household income drops by 10%, a woman’s by 33%. Sounds a lot like the statistics of a divorce.