Despite all the media attention given to palimony suits, possibly no more than two (in Northern California) have resulted in recoveries -- and this doesn't include Michelle Triola's award because the Marvin case is still on appeal.
"Problems that come into our office," says Washington, D.C., attorney Mary Bottum, "usually deal with property or other financial matters -- money that was given or loaned, for example, and it wasn't clear at the time whether it was a gift or a loan."
"People who live together," says Bottum, "should take a very serious look at their financial arrangement with each other and make clear decisions about whether they want to pool their money or keep it separate. The least problems arise when they keep their money separate -- when each person has financial autonomy, perhaps with a household account to cover household expenses, and each putting in an agreed-upon amount."
a written "relationship contract" drawn up specifically around the question of property, covering both ownership and responsibilities: who will pay utilities, insurance, taxes, mortgage payments, repairs, and in what percentage -- and what will happen if you break up. How will proceeds of the sale of property, for example, be divided?
a will, if you own property and want it to go to someone other than your family. Property passes to your spouse, your parents, your children, all through the surviving next of kin, and if you have no family goes to the state, not your partner.
Says D.C. attorney Lenard Graff, who is handling the defense in the Cox v. Elwing palimony case, "If you own a house with your lover as tenants-in-common, and you have no will, you may suddenly be forced to co-own that house with, say, the mother of the deceased -- a woman who may despise you because of your relationship with her son or daughter."
power of attorney, for granting your partner powers he or she would assume naturally if you were married. Power of attorney allows your partner to make financial decisions on your behalf if you are ill or incapacitated. You can't be sure that a power of attorney would be binding, if challenged by the family, but up to a point it provides safeguards that married couples take for granted.
Sample agreements covering a multitude of situations are included in two handbooks currently available:
the Living Together Kit by Tony Ibara and Ralph Warner (Fawcett, $6.95). Easily understandable, full of practical information and free of confusing legal jargon, although the authors are both attorneys.
Living Together by Marvin Mitchelson (Simon & Schuster, $10.95). Provides interesting historical perspective from the attorney who handled the landmark Marvin case and now has more than 20 palimony suits pending in seven states.
If a lot of property or money is at stake, couples might consider getting a lawyer -- before the big break. Law firms with a domestic-relations practice are most likely able to help: Ask about "relationship contracts" they have drawn up, or ask to speak to the staff member with the most experience in the area.