Take the first simple steps for you and your family.
Even with the increased rights for LGBTQIA+ individuals and partners, there are still very few protections in traditional law for non-traditional lifestyles. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in an open relationship, a member of a throuple or one person in a big ole beautiful, ever-changing polycule: Written agreements can be the best way for folks to build and protect their chosen families.
In a world that still has a lot of gray areas and much room for improvement in handling alternative relationships, it is important to learn how to spell out expectations and responsibilities to protect yourself and the ones you love. If you identify as polyamorous or practice another form of consensual non-monogamy (CNM), chances are you may not be on a relationship escalator, so you may be thinking that written agreements don’t apply to you. But even the most autonomy-loving relationship anarchists and solo-polys may want to share community, housing, and resources with others.
When should you have a written agreement; and when is it fine to go without one?
My general rule for written agreements is that you should have one in place if the consequence of breaking the agreement might damage a relationship you value. When you first meet someone and start a new friendship or romance, the value you have invested is pretty low; this isn’t a time for binding agreements as you are getting to know each other. When you are deciding about a long term relationship that you want to invest time, money and energy into, then it’s time to sit down together and create agreements. It’s important to get things in writing when you share significant legal or financial consequences such as living together, buying property, making a major purchase like a car, machinery/equipment, starting a business, or co-parenting.
What if I’m already in one of those situations?
Maybe things are just starting to get serious, and you started sharing a cell phone plan, a bank account, or you spend time and money travelling together. Maybe you were monogamous and you’ve opened up your marriage without discussing how that affects your shared finances and futures. Maybe you had a partner move in with you months (or years) ago. It’s never too late to create a written agreement.
Clear is kind & consent is sexy
One thing polyamory culture usually gets right is recognizing the need for communication in our relationships. We already know that the “standard” way of doing things may not work for us and we’ve learned to be clear and creative in our relationship agreements. Agreements can include all those things you’ve casually discussed, and maybe some you haven’t until now. You can refer to the written agreement when disagreements pop up, life circumstances change, or you need to re-negotiate some things that aren’t working. Putting things in writing is important to ensure everyone understands the expectations and goals of an agreement and can meaningfully consent. The document itself acts as a reference point when there are questions or misunderstandings along the way — instead of fragile memory.
The process of making the agreement puts everyone literally on the same page. It isn’t always easy and you might find out that you and your loves *don’t* actually have the same goals and expectations. An agreement discussion is an opportunity to spell out actions and consequences from a place of love and level-headedness, instead of trying to figure things out when you are in conflict and your hearts are hurting. It is even harder to find out that you don’t share goals after you have invested time, money and heart in something that won’t work for everyone involved. Being clear about your agreements (and disagreements) from the beginning is kinder to everyone involved.
We are naturals at this — and it can be more romantic than you think
We know that talking about boundaries and agreements with your loved ones doesn’t have to be adversarial — this can be pillow talk. Putting things in writing can be part of a sexy romantic weekend with partners, a family business meeting, or it could just mean having a handy-dandy notebook on your nightstand. One great tool is this RADAR monthly check-in kit put together by the Multiamory folks.
What’s the law got to do with it?
Remember how I started out by explaining that polyam and CNM people do not have solid legal protections? Written agreements can help that in some situations; they can have legal significance even if they aren’t technically legally binding. The goal is always to avoid court, but if you do end up in court, a judge can look at informal written agreements to figure out the parties’ intentions before the legal dispute. Naturally, more formal legal contracts do hold up in court, no matter the nature of the relationship of the adults involved, whether they be for joint purchases, renting a home, borrowing money, or starting a business.
Informal agreements you can put together without a lawyer
Let’s say you have an agreement that states, “We intend to share our property as if we were legally married.” This informal contract doesn’t make you married, but it does give a court some insight into intent if you wind up in court trying to determine who gets what percentage of a home or business when you break up and have to divide up shared assets. If you’re married and decide to open up your relationship, a written agreement can be used as evidence that you’ve not committed adultery.
I’m including a template and some example agreements at the link below. I‘m providing this as a community resource to help folks protect themselves and their relationships through open communication and the creation of boundaries. These aren’t meant to be examples of perfect iron-clad legal agreements; they are offered to help you put together a written agreement with a loved one when you don’t know where to start.
Create your own relationship agreement(s)
A note from your friendly Texan polyam lawyer
I started answering questions from the polyam & CNM community over a decade ago. I’m often frustrated by the lack of legal protections and practical resources for chosen families and folks with non-traditional lifestyles — and now I am working to create useful tools for us all. I hope these resources help you create some clear, loving boundaries and expectations with your partners. My work keeps expanding and I am grateful to my community and partners for enriching my life. Don’t forget to bookmark this page and share it with your loved ones!
This content is for information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. If you have questions or concerns about your specific legal needs, please schedule a consultation with an attorney.