The Best Books on

Relationship Contracts

Copyright © 2018 by James Leonard Park

Selected and reviewed by James Park.
Listed in order of quality, beginning with the best.
Red comments are the evaluations and opinions of this reviewer.

1. Dorian Solot & Marshall Miller

Unmarried to Each Other:
The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple

(New York: Marlow & Company, 2002)       287 pages
(ISBN: 1-56924-566-1; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: HQ803.5.S66 2002)

    This is possibly the best book about creating your own relationship
free of the rules and conditions of traditional marriage.
And it will benefit all people in loving relationships
whether married or not, whether straight or gay.

    The founders of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, based in Boston,
interviewed several unmarried couples
and drew on their own experience and additional research
to create this comprehensive guide to dealing with
all aspects of having a committed loving relationship
that is not a legal marriage.
Over 100 people were interviewed in person,
plus several dozen more by other means of communication.

    For many couples, living together is a step toward marriage.
They want to experience the day-to-day relationship before tying the knot.
Other couples see their relationship as temporary
while it continues to be happy and meaningful for both of them.
And still other couples decide to have
permanent relationships without legal marriage.

    Here are the major themes discussed in this comprehensive book:
Reasons for not getting married: personal, financial, legal, religious.
Dealing with pressures from others;
discrimination against unmarried couples.

Methods for making the relationship work well; tools for staying together.
What labels and descriptions to use for each other and the relationship.
Legal and financial protections: Sharing assets and income,
health-care proxies, estate wills, common-law marriage, & income taxes.
Health-care benefits for unmarried domestic partners.
Commitment ceremonies to declare the relationship to others.
Raising children together without being married.
Would marriage change our relationship?
The long history of unmarried committed loving relationships.

    One advantage of this book over the others
that deal with unmarried relationships
is the actual words and thoughts of hundreds of people
who have experienced first-hand the benefits and problems
of having loving relationships outside of marriage.
When we read how others have organized their relationships,
we necessarily think about how we might settle the same questions.

2. Lenore J. Weitzman

The Marriage Contract:

Spouses, Lovers, and the Law

(New York: Free Press/Macmillian, 1981)       536 pages

    The most complete and comprehensive book
on the subject of relationship contracts
—both within a legal marriage and in lieu of legal marriage.
The following major issues are discussed and illustrated:
history and traditions of marriage;
benefits of relationship contracts;
power structures and negotiations;
household responsibilities; sex;
child-care responsibilities—during and after marriage;
property ownership and property division;
income and expenses; debts;
financial support during and after marriage;
retirement, disability, & death;
same-sex relationships;
revising and amending a relationship contract;
resolving disputes; dissolution.

    After you have read some shorter books,
this one will provide more detailed discussion of every issue.
must-read for everyone interested in relationship contracts.

3. Nihara Choudhri

What to Do Before "I Do":
The Modern Couple's Guide to Marriage, Money and Prenups

(Naperville, IL: Sphinx Publishing:, 2004)       222 pages
(ISBN: 1-57248-451-9; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: KF524.Z9.C47 2004)

    This is perhaps the best popular book on prenuptial agreements.
It raises all the financial issues marrying couples should address.
The author is an attorney dealing with marriage-law in New York.
She offers details about what must be included
to make a prenuptial agreement valid.
And she presents cases of couples who had
defective or inadequate prenuptial agreements.
Divorce judges also have considerably latitude
in how they interpret and enforce prenuptial agreements.
For example, some significant changes might have occurred
between the signing of the prenup and the time of divorce.

    Another error occurs when the marrying couple has no written agreement:
If one spouse does not report all of his or her income,
the IRS can come after the other spouse for unpaid taxes.
Without a prenuptial agreement to the contrary,
even 'your own' savings account will probably be counted as marital property.
Even if you have a will leaving your assets to your children,
about 1/3 could nevertheless go to your spouse when you die.
A joint mortgage debt might last longer than the marriage
if the spouse who gets the house cannot qualify for a new mortgage alone.

    Separate and marital property rules vary from state to state.
If you divorce, the laws of the state where you live apply,
not the laws of the state where you married.
A premarital agreement will allow you to specify in advance of marriage
what will count as separate property
(which you will keep individually if the marriage ends)
and what will be marital property
(which will be divided by the divorce judge).
And you can also specify how marital property will be divided.

    A good premarital agreement will also cover estate planning:
What happens to all income and assets when one partner dies?

    This book should enable you to write a good prenuptial agreement,
covering all of the financial details of your proposed new relationship.
One complete prenuptial agreement is included, with marginal explanations.
To create a valid agreement, each of you must be represented by a lawyer.

4. Edward A. Haman

How to Write Your Own Premarital Agreement

(Naperville, IL: Sphinx Publishing:, 2002---3rd edition)
(ISBN: 1-57248-156-0; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: KF529.Z9H35 2001)       170 pages

    This is a basic self-help book for creating a prenuptial agreement.
After explaining the concept with cases and pitfalls,
the basic law of each state is presented on one page for each state.
This book is revised about every 5 years.
In order to keep up with the changing laws, read the most recent edition.
Some different sample forms of a premarital agreement are provided.
Appendices include such things as a check-list of property,
which must be disclosed to make your agreement valid.

    How to Write Your Own Premarital Agreement
contains all the essential words
needed to create a valid prenuptial agreement.
You can write it all without any attorney.
But to make it valid , you must each have an attorney
review your agreement before signing.

5. Arlene G. Dubin

Prenups for Lovers:
A Romantic Guide to Prenuptial Agreements

(New York: Random House/Villard:, 2001)       244 pages
(ISBN: 0-375-75535-7; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: KF529.Z9D83 2001)

    The author is a family-law attorney in New York City.
When her first marriage ended, the divorce proceedings lasted 7 years.
For her second marriage, she insisted on a prenuptial agreement,
parts of which are included in this volume.

    This book provides more encouragement than detailed advice,
since two lawyers are required to create a valid prenuptial agreement.
The lawyers will put in the exact legal words and phrases
needed to achieve whatever the partners want.

    Prenups for Lovers is written in simple language
that anyone can understand.

It helps people who are planning to marry
to think about all of the financial details before they merge their lives.
It asks all of the same financial Questions
as covered in Designer Marriage
(the last book in this bibliography),
but these questions come in clumps
without giving much attention to how they might be answered.
And the issues are not well separated and organized.
For example, assets and income are not treated in separate chapters.

    Prenuptial agreements focus almost entirely
on the financial arrangements
that marrying partners are contracting to follow.
How will they own their property and handle their incomes?
What will happen if they dissolve their marriage?
What will happen when one of them dies?

    All of the issues are illustrated by stories of what some couples did.

    After finishing this book, the reader will feel more comfortable
about beginning the discussions with the spouse-to-be and with lawyers
that will ultimately lead to creating a written prenuptial agreement.

6. Jeff Atkinson

Guide to Marriage, Divorce, & Families

(New York: Random House Reference:, 2006)       239 pages
(ISBN: 978-0-375-72138-0; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: KF505.A87 2006)

    This is an official publication of the American Bar Association,
which is named as the author on the cover.
It is an excellent summary in one volume
of all areas law that relate to married couples, unmarried couples,
& and all structures of families.
Each brief chapter ends with resources for further exploration.

    Major themes: premarital agreements; valid and invalid marriages;
same-sex marriages, civil unions, & domestic partnerships;
living together; financial aspects of marriage; having children;
adoption; deciding about divorce; separation, annulment, & divorce;
dividing property; alimony/maintenance; child support;
child custody and parenting time; domestic violence;
working with an attorney; mediation & other alternatives.

    Because this is a book strictly about how the law affects relationships,
it does not deal with the more subjective and emotional dimensions.
And because the law becomes involved in any relationship
mainly when the partners are deciding to separate,
it does not help much in preparing useful agreements
for on-going relationships.

    A good reference book on any of the themes discussed.

7. Todd Outcalt 

Before You Say "I Do":
Important Questions for Couples to Ask Before Marriage

(New York: Berkley/Penquin Putnam, 1998)       260 pages
(ISBN: 0-399-52375-8; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: HQ734.O78 1998)

    Over 300 detailed, practical questions
prospective spouses should ask each other
life-plans, education, careers, values and beliefs,
sex, children, past relationships, money,
& running a household.

    Outcalt does not offer any answers,
but he does tell about couples who did not ask
such questions before they married
and the adverse results they suffered.  

    Recommended for all couples
as a simple way to get to know each other.
These questions will probably turn up some surprises.  

    There are also shorter chapters of questions to ask:
your friends and family, prospective in-laws,
religious leader, lawyer, & your children.

8. Toni Ihara & Ralph Warner 

The Living Together Kit:

A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples

(Berkeley, CA: Nolo Press, 1997—8th Edition) about 250 pages

    This book is recommended for everyone who wants help
creating legal agreements for non-married relationships.
Get the most recent edition, which will include the latest changes
in state and federal laws applicable to unmarried couples.
Major chapters discuss: financial and practical sharing;
renting; buying a house; having children; prior families;
dividing property when separating; wills and estates.
The book is well organized, discussing the issues one by one.

    The authors are two lawyers who lived together for 19 years
and then decided to get married for the sake of their daughter.

9. Hayden Curry, Denis Clifford, & Robin Leonard

A Legal Guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples

(Berkeley, CA: Nolo Press, 1994—8th edition) over 300 pages

    An excellent guide for gay and lesbian couples,
discussing all the special problems they might encounter
—and creative solutions to each.
Major themes discussed: domestic partnership; changing names;
renting together; buying a home together; sharing income and expenses;
insurance; several forms of co-parenting
(adoption, guardianship, foster parents);
durable power of attorney for health care and finances;
estate planning and wills; ending prior heterosexual marriages;
child custody; ending the relationship.
Includes several pages of forms that can be adapted
to formalize decisions about these and other matters.
Highly recommended.

<>    Read the most recent edition, since the laws keep changing.
Same-sex marriage is now possible in many places.
Same-sex couples who decide to marry
will have some issues settled for them by marriage law.

10. Stacy & Wynne Whitman  

Shacking Up:
The Smart Girl's Guide to Living in Sin Without Getting Burned

(New York: Broadway Books/Random House:, 2003)      
(ISBN: 0-7679-1040-0; paperback)       303 pages
(Library of Congress call number: HQ803.5.W55 2003)

    This is a breezy but helpful book for woman who are living with men
or thinking about living together without the bonds of marriage.
Stacy is a journalist; her sister Wynne is an attorney.  
Stacy's style shapes the book,
but it does contain some wise words from the lawyer
about protecting your rights.

    This could be a good place to start reading
for woman who are thinking of 'shacking up'.

    The most important issues discussed:
problems with parents who disapprove;
pros and cons of living together;
how to set up a common household;
organizing your money; legal rights;
deciding to get married;  & ending relationships.

    Many of the matters discussed in detail
in the last book in this bibliography
are dealt with lightly here.  
But for people who will never write down their relationship contract,
this enjoyable and easy-to-read book might be helpful.

11. Pepper Schwartz 

Love between Equals:

How Peer Marriage Really Works

(New York: Free Press, 1994)       205 pages
(original title: Peer Marriage)
(ISBN: 0-02-874061-0; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: HQ536.S394 1995)

    Sociologist Pepper Schwartz interviewed several couples
who were striving to overcome the inequality
normally present in traditional marriage:
One partner earns more than the other.
One does more of the housework and childcare.
One has more power in the relationship.
The pattern of sexual behavior reflects the power relationship.

    The actual experiences of these peer couples
—who strove for equality in all dimensions of their relationship—
forms the basic content of this book.
Their struggles to create and maintain balance in their relationships
should inspire others to reform their own relationships
to make the partners more equal.

    Love between Equals contains little discussion of contracts,
but these couples worked very hard to transform
implicit contracts under which most couples operate.

    Most relationships in the advanced parts of the world
will move at least some steps away from traditional hierarchy
and toward the partners being peers.
This book begins to show the way.

12. Larry M. Elkins

Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples:
How to Gain Financial Protection Denied by Law

New York: Doubleday, 1995)       258 pages
(1994 edition called First Comes Love, Then Comes Money)
(ISBN: 0-385-47173-4; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: HG179.E43 1995)

    A detailed discussion of all financial aspects
of a coupled relationship which is not legally a marriage
with many helpful examples of couples who planned well
and others who did not.  
Major themes: estate planning
wills, trusts, insurance;
health-care planning; investment program; raising children;
paying for retirement; owning a business together;
income tax; gift and estate tax; special trusts;
all forms of insurance
life, property, auto, nursing home.
Includes many legal forms for unmarried couples and check-lists.
A good place to begin the complex process
of sharing at least some parts of your financial life.

13. Elizabeth S. Lewin, CFP

Financial Fitness for Living Together

(New York: Facts on File, 1996)       168 pages
(ISBN: 0-8160-3281-5; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: HG179.L473 1996)

    A financial planner gives detailed instructions
for handling the following issues that arise when
people live together without being married:
keeping financial records of income and expenditures;
assessing net worth, separately and together;
spending plans and cash flow;
handling debts, credit, & loans;
saving and investing;
preparing for retirement and retiring;
pension plans, now and when you retire;
financing housing, different forms of ownership;
supporting children in college;
all forms of insurance;
estate planning.

    Most of the information included applies to everyone,
married or not, gay or straight
who combine their finances in any ways.
Some of the tax information is out of date,
so look for a more recent edition of this book
or another like it for that information.
If you follow all of the advice in this book,
you are certain to have a healthier financial life together.

14. Lester Wallman with Sharon McDonnell

Cupid, Couples, & Contracts:
A Guide to Living Together,

Prenuptial Agreements, and Divorce

(New York: Master Media, 1994)       171 pages
(ISBN: 1-57101-000-9; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: KF510.Z9W35 1994)

     An excellent, detailed treatment of all the issues
that will be considered in ending a marriage:
division of assets and income; child custody, support, & visitation;
temporary separation agreements that will mature into divorces.
The author is a matrimonial attorney practicing in the state of New York.
The relevant laws of all other states are also taken into account.
If the partners write a comprehensive prenuptial agreement
before getting married, they will have a separation plan
that will usually be better than a divorce decree imposed by a judge.
This book includes many cautionary stories
from couples who did not plan ahead.

15. Paul P. Ashley

Oh Promise Me, But Put it in Writing:

Living-Together Agreements without, before, and after Marriage

(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978)       140 pages

    Paul Ashley, a lawyer with some experience in domestic relations law,
has written a short, yet comprehensive, book
on relationship contracts of all sorts.
Major themes: pre-nuptial agreements; marriage contracts;
contracts for non-married couples, including same-sex couples;
legal and business contracts between spouses;
estate planning; separation and post-relationship contracts.

    This book covers almost all the same themes as Designer Marriage
(the last book on this bibliography) but from a different point of view.
It should be helpful to those who want to explore the questions
for a relationship contract from a legal perspective.
Borrow a copy from your favorite public or college library.

16. Bernard E. Clair & Anthony R. Daniele

Love Pact: A Complete Layman's Guide
to Legal Living Together Agreements

(New York: Grove Press, 1980)       222 pages

    This book by two lawyers is aimed toward
creating legally-binding written agreements between two parties.
The authors have considered all the possible provisions
that might be included and have provided drafts
of all the mandatory and optional provisions for such agreements.
The book is necessarily technical, but it should be consulted
by all who want an agreement that will stand up in court.
Major issues covered: property ownership; income sharing;
taxes; debts; children; pensions & insurance; making it all legal.

17. Johnette Duff, JD & George G. Truitt, CPA, CFP

The Spousal Equivalent Handbook:
A Legal and Financial Guide to Living Together

(Houston, TX: Sunny Beach Publications, 1991)      220 pages

    A simple guide by a lawyer and financial planner who live together,
raising the questions that should be answered
by any two people sharing a household.
Breaks no new ground, but presents the basics.
Could be a place to begin reading.

18. Jacqueline Rickard

Complete Premarital Contracting:
Loving Communication for Today's Couples

(New York: Evans, 1991, under the title Save Your Marriage Ahead of Time)
(New York: Evans, 1993, paperback edition)     225 pages
(ISBN: 0-87131-739-7; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: HQ734.R536 1993)

     A breezy book by a woman
who has a premarital contract with her second husband.
The focus of this book in on the
process of creating a contract,
the basic content being left to lawyers for both parties.
And as with all legal premarital contracts,
the basic content deals with what happens in case of divorce.
Nevertheless, there are some common-sense ideas
that ought to be considered by all couples, married or not.

19. Chris Barton

Cohabitation Contracts:
Extra-Marital Partnerships and Law Reform

(Aldershot, UK: Gower, 1985)       115 pages

    Relationship contracts in the context of English law and practice.
An argument (with recommendations) for reform toward greater flexibility
in legal relationships between unmarried partners.
Because the laws of England differ from the laws in the United States,
legal reform will be different,
but almost all the same issues must be faced.

[last]. James Park

Designer Marriage:
Write Your Own Relationship Contract

(Minneapolis, MN:, 2010)       192 pages
978-0-89231-571-0; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number:
KF529.P37 2010)

       This book is structured around 28 open-ended Questions, in six areas:
(1) living arrangements; (2) promises; (3)children;
(4) income & expenses; (5) assets & debts; (6) insurance, retirement, & death.
The discussion of each Question begins with the default Answer
how this Question is answered by traditional marriage
and then proceeds to suggest some more creative Answers.
If we want a relationship beyond conventional marriage,
we will create our own special ways of answering each Question.
And if we put our Answers into writing,
we will have our own relationship contract.
Every on-going relationship already has implicit Answers.
Might reviewing (and perhaps revising) our Answers
lead to a better relationship?

    All 28 Questions and more information about this book
will be found on the Internet: Designer Marriage:
Write Your Own Relationship Contract:
This link leads to about 30% of the pages of this book.

Go to the Index of Bibliographies by James Park
Over 350 books reviewed in more than 60 bibliographies.

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