The high divorce rate around the country is no secret. Some young people looking to beat those odds have searched for the causes of divorce and potential solutions that will enable them to have a lasting marriage. Some believe that the young age at which prior generations were married may be a contributing factor. In response, they have delayed marriage and instead have cohabited with a boyfriend or girlfriend for a period of time to determine whether they are compatible.
So, does a cohabitation "trial period" have the desired effect? Although approximately 7.5 million unmarried couples currently live together, and about 66 percent of people in their 20s believed that cohabitation can stave off divorce, the answer is a decided no. In fact, people who live together before marriage are more likely to get a divorce.
Why does a plan with such well-meaning goals end up backfiring? Researchers attribute it in part to the dynamics of cohabitation itself. Many couples enter into cohabitation without creating a long-term plan, and once they share a living space and other resources, they find it harder to break up. And since most people say that they expect less out of a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend than they would out of a husband or wife, the implication is that cohabitation traps some people with spouses they would not marry otherwise.
In addition, women typically see cohabitation as a prelude to marriage, whereas men often have no such expectation. This divergence of perspective can contribute to later relationship difficulties and divorce.
Cohabiting couples who marry and later divorce will have to face a number of legal issues, including division of marital property, spousal support and, if they are parents, child custody.
Source: The New York Times, "The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage," Meg Jay, April 14, 2012.