Living Together While Keeping Money Unmarried

Separate accounts and simple documents can protect partners.

Matthew Krise and Pasha Carroll have clear rules on handling finances.

Matthew Krise and Pasha Carroll have clear rules on handling finances.

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Taxing. If one person pays more upfront than the other, Garrett says, couples can either agree to prorated ownership percentages or a schedule for the other person to catch up by paying the monthly mortgage bill. (Aside from the issue of fairness, Garrett adds, if one person provides the "gift" of a down payment, it may be subject to gift taxes.)

Differing monetary contributions underscore the need for a written agreement about what happens in the event of a dispute. "Sometimes people argue that they contributed more to a down payment. In some states, that may make a difference but not in others," says family law specialist Michele Lowenstein.

Parkinson's approach seems to have worked: When she and her boyfriend were ready to buy a bigger home six years ago, they made the offer and got engaged on the same day.