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How a Written Agreement Can Enhance Your Relationship

Marital contracts have an honorable history going back thousands of years, but they have not been put to good use for modern couples. Instead they have developed a bad reputation for being legalistic, money-grubbing things, negatively preoccupied with all that might go wrong in the future, and too often used to strip a woman marrying a wealthy man of her rights to property, support, and inheritance. But it doesn't have to be that way.

A new kind of relationship agreement, the Couples Contract is a different animal entirely--affirming and forward-looking--which can do constructive things for loving couples and add features to their relationship that can only help.

Positive, clear language. Unlike the traditional prenup with its terrible legalistic, sphincter-tightening language that lawyers tend to use, often as an awkward substitute for clear thinking and competent writing, the Couples Contract is written in loving and affirming language in simple terms everyone can understand.

Commitment. The Couples Contract affirms your intention to enter into a lasting relationship based upon mutual affection, respect and friendship. You can also commit to a high degree of openness, honesty and good faith in all dealings with one another.

The advantages of a Couples Contract can be had by any couple at any time. It doesn't matter if you are married, soon-to-be-married, or simply living together. If you are a committed couple, you can't afford to be without at least a basic Couples Contract. Here are some essential benefits:

  • Make a loving commitment to a lasting relationship
  • Introduce concepts that can help solve relationship problems if any arise
  • Make sure your relationship never ends up in court
  • Keep the terms of your relationship stable, no matter where you move

You don't have to, but if you want, you can add some optional clauses to your basic agreement that will take some thought and discussion, such as:

  • Tailor your financial relationships to make them more suitable to your family's needs, which for some couples will be a must.
  • Introduce faith-related principles into your family life.
You can start with a simpler basic agreement first, then tailor it later or never, or you can tailor your agreement at the outset. In either case, your agreement can be modified at any time.

Introduce constructive principles into your relationship

One of the most important features you can add to any relationship--a gift that you can give yourselves--is planning in advance, while everything is smooth and lovely, to deal with issues that might threaten your relationship in the future. If you want a lasting relationship, there are specific things you can do to increase your chances.

The Couples Contract can plant some seeds that will help you unravel predicaments that come up for most couples sooner or later. Most couples have no plan or idea for how to deal with such situations if they ever do occur, but you can create a Couples Contract that is there to remind you that there are things you can do and resources you can turn to if needed. Even though things may be wonderful and romantic now, just having these seeds in the back of your mind will help you in the future to recognize signs that your relationship needs some attention, and you'll have some ideas for how to respond if that happens. Look at this as a form of free health insurance.

I expand on these concepts in detail, show you how to create your own Couples Contract, and even provide a template and optional clauses, in my latest book, Legal Essentials for California Couples at You can use the Couples Contract template even if you don't live in California by making some minor changes.

Copyright 2005 Ed Sherman

Ed Sherman is a family law attorney, award-winning author, and founder of Nolo Press. He started the self-help law movement in 1971 when he published the first edition of How to Do Your Own Divorce, and founded the paralegal industry in 1973. In his latest book, featuring the Couples Contract, Ed applies what he has learned from years of experience to help couples protect and preserve their relationship. You can order his books from or by calling (800) 464-5502.

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