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Older Adults and Romance

Some words of wisdom here from The Hook Law Center's newsletter.

It is no secret that American families come in all shapes and sizes.  Gone are the days when a family consisted of a husband and wife who have only been married once and their children from that marriage.  Much research has been done on blended families at any age but not much information exists on older adults and relationship.  Indeed when the issue arises, many families (adult children and grandchildren) are shocked that romantic relationships are a concern.  Yet, romantic relationships and the resulting intimacy and companionship can vastly improve the quality of life for many older adults.  However, the relationship may also require some legal planning to protect all involved.


There are trends with relationships among older adults which may surprise many (especially their children).  One such trend is a coupling where the partners cohabitate but choose not to get married.  In times past, this arrangement may have been seen as unusual at best and judged harshly at worst.  However, since 2007 there has been a 75% rise in the number of couples where the parties are 50 or older in the United States who live together but who choose not to get married.

The reasons for the choice vary widely.  For some, the possible loss of pension benefits or health insurance benefits from a prior spouse provide a financial incentive to avoid remarriage.  For many who have been divorced, they look at cohabitation, commitment, and personal happiness as more valuable than the ceremony.  In addition, there is less risk in that they are not legally responsible for the debts of their cohabitating partner, but they would be responsible for the debts of a spouse.  For many, women in particular, cohabitation offers financial stability in that there is a combination of incomes to support the household, but no risk of loss of assets which were accumulated with a prior spouse.

In addition, to the many couples who choose to cohabitate, there is a trend emerging known as “living apart together.”  This refers to couples in loving and committed relationships who desire to remain committed but who do not want to get married or cohabitate.  Unlike the dating relationships of most younger adults, where dating is a step on the way to marriage, these couples see no need for anything beyond the commitment.  As for those who choose to cohabitate, the reasons for this vary widely.  Some have been through devastating divorces and do not want a similar entanglement.  Others don’t want the crowded feeling that accompanies another living in the same space and they want to maintain separate social circles and events.

From a legal perspective much emphasis is placed on careful planning for married couples.  However, for couples in alternative arrangements, planning may be even more important.  For many older adults in alternative arrangements, they want their non-spouse partner to make medical or financial decisions for them in the event of an incapacity or they may wish for their partner to make medical decisions but other family members to make financial decisions.  Whatever the desire, appropriate legal documents must exist so that wishes are clearly expressed.  It can also be helpful to let all parties, especially adult children who may expect to take on certain roles, to know the express wishes of the individual prior to a medical crisis or incapacity.  Failure to do can result in negative feelings between parties or, in some cases, contested litigation over who should be allowed to make certain decisions.

Being an older adult does not preclude a romantic relationship and, if you are an older adult in an alternative relationship, you are not alone.  Relationships can take on a variety of appearances, all of which can contribute to a happy and positive old age.  However, some legal planning is recommended to protect all involved.

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