The Relationship Between Premarital Cohabitation and Divorce

Today, for a variety of reasons, more and more San Diego couples are cohabitating before marriage. What used to be incredibly taboo has now become the norm for an increasing number of young adults. The National Marriage Project conducted a nation-wide survey in order to garner the opinion of 20-somethings regarding cohabitation and marriage. According to the survey, approximately half of the participants agreed with the following statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” In addition to agreeing with this statement, two-thirds of the participants stated that they thought cohabitation before marriage was conducive to avoiding divorce. Considering these generally accepted statements, the statistics shockingly indicate that premarital cohabitation is a better predictor of divorce than a happy marriage.

Dr. Meg Jay’s article in the New York Times called this phenomenon the “cohabitation effect.” Originally, the usually high divorce rate among the young cohabitating couples was attributed to their liberal views and openness to the idea of divorce in general. However, recent research suggests that the risk of divorce may be inherent in premarital cohabitation itself.

One common scenario involves a couple that moves in together quickly because sharing expenses is an economical and convenient arrangement. This decision might have been made without any communication between the parties. In fact, it was not uncommon for the research participants say that moving in with their significant other “just happened.” Dr. Jay suggests an open dialogue about each parties’ motivation for cohabitating before moving in together. Although the living arrangement is very easily entered into, a problem arises when one partner wants to get out. Some couples continue to work on a relationship that would have ended much sooner. The commitment of an apartment/house, furniture, pets, and other joint-purchases make a decision to end the relationship much harder and complicated.

When the relationship does end, many couples have acquired a variety of assets during the years of cohabitation. Under the principles of California family law, unmarried couples do not enjoy the same property rights as lawfully married spouses. Thus, the law of contracts will apply to any agreement made between cohabitating parties. Since the law of contracts governs, the parties may contract any arrangement they like, within legal limits. If desired, a cohabiting couple may even contract to treat their respective interests as if they were married and the law of community property governed. Cohabitation agreements are becoming an increasingly popular way to protect unmarried parties who decide to move in with their significant other.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.