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Amy Hake and Jon Hambach are in love.  They just don't have a marriage license.

They do live together. They have a joint bank account, a jointly-owned car and they're buying a house together in Warrenton.

“We love each other deeply. Marriage will come eventually,” says Jon, 24.

Why not tie the knot now? “We wouldn't have any money left,” laughs Amy, 23. “Weddings are terribly expensive.”

Lots of people live together before marriage. So, let's take a look at some of the money and legal issues that entails.

Come January, Amy will go back to college to finish her degree, which means money will be tighter and Jon will have to carry more of the financial load on his salary as a systems installer for CenturyLink. He's cool with that.

Money is a major cause of arguments among couples. For husbands, financial disagreements are the strongest predictor of divorce, according to research by Jeffrey Dew of Utah State University. For wives, both financial and sexual disputes predict divorce, but financial arguments were a much better predictor.

Because of such complications, live-ins should keep their finances separate, Bridget Brennan, a “marriage educator” at St. Louis Healthy Families.  They should agree in advance how they'll cover joint bills.

Often, the conflict stems from different ways that people view money; some see it as a means to security, and sock it away. To others, it's a means to fun.

“If she shops at Plaza Frontenac and you go to J.C. Penney's, you'd better be aware of that,” says Brennan. “The spender will resent the saver. It turns into a control issue and nagging.”

Counselors suggest couples talk frankly about money before moving in together. Watch your potential mate's behavior, says Brennan. Can you live with their money habits?

Jon and Amy have known each other since grammar school. They had the money talk and decided they were on the same beam.

“We both grew up, not poor, but without a lot of excess money,” says Amy. “We believe in saving, and having a rainy day fund, but we want to enjoy things too.”

That's why they're buying a house. They have a dog and want a second one. That would be a no-no in their current rental.

They got a good deal, says their real estate agent, Steve Magnum of Coldwell Banker Gundaker. They're paying $95,000 for a ranch-style house that sold for $141,000 new about five years ago.

Jon and Amy seem headed for bliss. But it's worth looking at what happens when unmarried people break up after living together.

Divorce law doesn't apply, of course. There's no community property. (Illinois' does provide divorce for people legally joined in civil unions. Missouri doesn't allow civil unions.)

There's no such thing as “palimony” under Missouri and Illinois law. One partner will have no claim on the other's income, says Joe Cordell, senior parter at the Cordell and Cordell law firm, which specializes in divorce.

Neither state recognizes a “common law marriage” among long-term live-ins.

Instead, the law treats ex-lovers like partners breaking up a business. What counts is what's on paper. If a house is in one partner's name, it doesn't matter if the other helped pay the mortgage for all those years. Oral agreements aren't enforceable in real estate.

If property is jointly owned, and the partners can't agree, the court will probably order the property sold and the proceeds split between them, says Cordell.

Partners can regulate those things through separate contracts, sometimes called cohabitation agreements. But things can get complicated here. For instance, the courts won't uphold a personal services contract for “love and affection,” says Cordell.

If you want such a contract, better see a lawyer.

If the couple has a child, a separate set of laws applies to custody and support, as in divorce.

Of course, these aren't just issues for the young, as Jim Wilson and Kelly Lutz can testify. He's 76, the retired president of a big moving company. She's 48, a medical assistant.

Wilson, a widower, asked Lutz to marry him and she said yes. They moved in together in Sunset Hills. But they're not sure they'll ever tie the knot.

“I have two daughters older than her. She's got three children,” says Wilson. “My daughters love her and we have not had an argument in three and a half years.”

Lutz sold her house in Chesterfield, and put the money toward her retirement. He sold his condo and bought a bigger one with room for Lutz' high school age daughter and college-age son.

Mixing families brings legal complications. Wilson says he has “quite a bit of money.” If he should marry, and then die, who inherits what?

“That's my biggest fear,” says Lutz. “We've all blended together so well, I don't want anybody to feel threatened.”

Wills and a prenuptial agreement might settle those issues, of course. Marriage educator Brennan thinks prenups are a very good idea.

“A prenup doesn't mean you don't love each other. It means your caring for people from your first relationship,” she says.

But for now, the couple likes things the way they are. “We are very, very happy,” says Lutz.

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