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How to Divorce When You Aren’t Married

Times change. And then again, they don't. Not really, because after all is said in done in American romance and its evolving iterations, breaking up is still hard to do.

Back in the day, or so I'm told by those in "The Greatest Generation" you got married young and stayed together for life, no matter how much you wanted to kill each other. But divorces soon increased anyway. As my parents and other boomers of the '50s and '60s grew older, "Children of Divorce" (like me and virtually everyone I knew) became "a thing." Anyone who experienced joint custody, unpaid child support, step parents, and then ex-step parents understood the difficulties of breaking up.

You'd think that as the social stigma of unwed mothers, single parents, and living together all faded, the breaking up part would get easier. Though a divorce attorney is no longer required, parting ways is still – surprisingly perhaps – much tougher to do than one might expect.

A Rent.com survey of 1,000 unmarried couples living together found that 62% stayed for more than a month or longer even after the "it's not you, it's me" speech. More than half said finding new housing was the hardest part. A third said they stayed around simply because finding and paying for a new place was tough. Thankfully, plenty of advice exists for extracting yourself and your stuff as peacefully – and quickly – as possible.

The pre-shack
Have that awkward pre-nuptial financial agreement talks before even moving in together. Lay out some basics of who owns what, how expenses are shared, and who gets the place if the social love experiment fails. As for those already shacking up, it's not too late. Designate a day to "clarify." Just don't plan it for Valentine's Day.

Rainy day fund
If there is one thing to keep separate, it's a savings account. Moving is never cheap. Deposits, new purchases, rental vans, pizza, and beverages for the reluctant movers you call friends – you name it, it all costs. Insist savings be kept separate from the start. If you are already living with someone, it's a good thing to discuss your savings goals now. The very idea of living together denotes a more experimental phase than marriage (despite half of those suckers circling the drain, the illusion of permanence still exists), so a clear talk about security is a sign of maturity and health – not doubt of your true love.

Storage
According to the Rent.com survey, more than half said splitting the stuff was actually more difficult than splitting the cash (likely because there is far more of the former and less of the latter). From the start, it's a good idea to store rather than purge when two people merge. If that box of old books and those treasured mementos and the recliner she said was too ugly all find a nice private place to stay, moving out day will at least be quicker, if not less painful.

Be your best self
With so many raw nerves exposed, a break up will go better if conducted civilly until the hard work of relocating, dividing, and reclaiming your single life is done. Kindness, compromise, and healthy boundaries are critical at times like these, which requires you to channel your inner Gandhi when you may well feel like Gordon Ramsey

In the end the best advice is often the simplest. Think of the old Band Aid and rip. I'm not sure a "clean" break-up exists, but the more it resembles a scalpel rather than a butter knife, the sooner you'll find the road to recovery on your own again.