Yours, Mine, Ours
Unmarried cohabitating couples face difficulties that married couples don't generally have. The main issue is the question of "yours, mine and ours."
A legally binding marriage helps to organize that landscape, but without a contract, things can get messy if a relationship goes awry. It's a matter of self-defense when you don't have anything on paper to defend your interests, Kay said.
Housing, estate planning and insurance are all factors to consider when deciding to move in, and have a child, with a partner with whom you're not married.
"Unlike married couples, the courts won't assume you have equal ownership of the house in the event of a breakup," said Kay. "The house will go to whomever is on the title, even if one partner puts 75 percent of the money into the home and the other only antes up 25 percent, it will be an equal divide."
Kay said partners must make sure both names are on the title of a house. When a child is added to the housing issue and the couple breaks up, "the child's housing future may become collateral damage."
An estate plan is also particularly essential for unmarried couples because, "If you die without a will, your estate will be divided according to state law, which usually doesn't recognize domestic partners or common law spouses, and, in some cases, may not recognize the child."
As for health insurance, Kay suggested that, if both people are insured through work, keep the separate plans.
Otherwise, "If your partner is a legal dependent, then that would be the other exception," said Kay. "However, getting legal dependency declared is very difficult. You should draw up a durable power of attorney for health care and make sure you've drawn up advanced health care directives."
Ebbs and Flows of Non-Marriage
Committed unwed couples go through the same ebbs and flows of a typical marriage, and it is to-be-expected that there will be difficulties and disagreements, said Dr. Fran Walfish, child and family psychotherapist and author of "The Self-Aware Parent."
"I have treated many unwed couples who, after time, experience the same decrease in romance, sexual excitation and libido that married couples go through," said Walfish. "Generally I find that both partners love and engage with their children similarly to married couples.
That said, the alternative relationship can indeed work between two "willing, open honest partners," Walfish said. "They bring with them the same histories, strengths and challenges that married parents carry down."
As for Montero, the new mom said she was not surprised by the study's findings of rising rates of children born to unmarried, but committed, parents.
"The reality is that there are so many women putting their career first and really thinking about their future, which is amazing," she said. "In my situation, it didn't work out the first time around. We're giving it a second go-around, and we're throwing tradition to the wind and doing it our way."