Divorce without marriage occurs regularly in our society. The trend now is to live together and avoid marriage. When relationships die, breakups occur. It may be easier to break up if you aren't married, but what haven't you considered?
Married or not, we accumulate things such as houses, furnishings, businesses, other property etc. Typically the expectation is that couples are partners in those things. So what happens in the end if you break up? If you are partners in "things", where's the partnership agreement containing terms of the partnership dissolution? I have never handled such a case where a partnership agreement actually existed.
We enter into romantic relationships with the best of intentions, but we accumulate "things" without thought of unwinding ownership if the worst case scenario occurs. We believe if we aren't married, then no legal issues will exist between us. Believe me, that thought is anything but true.
If you are married and you break up, there are a multitude of laws that determine rights to property; rules and guidelines for dividing property. Without a marriage, what are the rules and guidelines for dividing property? That's where partnership agreements come into play. Most sophisticated business partnerships have detailed agreements for dissolution. Most domestic partnerships have no partnership agreements. Dividing up property rights can become very complex depending upon what property exists and how everything was structured.
What I have seen, often, is one party was very savvy while the other was not. One partner may have gotten advice and planned well for the break up scenario, and the other was clueless. When the relationship fails, the planner wins and the innocent trusting one loses big. Most people say that's not "fair"; I say "fair" doesn't apply to family law. It's certainly not fair when one party wants out of a relationship when the other party doesn't. What's fair about broken hearts?
The lesson is that we must plan in advance for domestic partnerships so we will have rules that deal with property issues. It sounds like divorce planning and it is of sorts, but it's easier to work out terms of dissolution in advance when you are "in love," rather than when you are "in hate."
Premarital agreements ("prenups") are a form of partnership agreements. Family law attorneys draft these complex documents as part of their everyday work. They are contracts between the parties and are extremely valuable, especially when a domestic partnership exists without a marriage. Domestic partnership agreements apply equally to heterosexual and same sex couples for property issues know no gender.
If nothing else, pay a divorce attorney for an hour consultation. Knowledge is power and it's time and money well spent.