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Divorce and the “Premarital Cohabitation Effect”

Divorce and the “Premarital Cohabitation Effect”

By: M. Scott Gordon

Are you more likely to get divorced if you live together—or cohabitate—prior to marriage? This is a question that has received a substantial amount of attention across the decades, and it seems as though researchers have answered the question in disparate ways. While some say that cohabitation before marriage does not make divorce more likely, other researchers say the opposite—that living together before marriage can increase the couple’s odds for divorce. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, it is often difficult to make sense of these opposing study results, but there may be some significant factors to consider.

Shifting Results from Studies on Cohabitation and Divorce

One of the most logical explanations for the shifting results on studies assessing cohabitation and divorce rates is that the odds of divorce after living together have changed over the years. For example, as the article notes, many studies conducted prior to 2007 found that cohabitation did, in a majority of cases, increase the risk of divorce for couples. However, over the last decade, “a number of studies and social scientists declared that the association between living together before marriage and difficulties in marriage had disappeared.” Given that more recent research, many people were surprised to see a new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family that linked cohabitation to higher rates of divorce. That study referred to this phenomenon as the “premarital cohabitation effect.”

Does this mean that changing social norms affect the rate of divorce among cohabitating couples?

While changing social values and norms may affect relationships, this is not a sole explanation for these different study results. As the article argues, the “understanding of” the link between cohabitation and divorce rates simply has gotten better over the years. In other words, it is unlikely that this association between cohabitation and divorce disappeared in the previous 10 years, and rather that the link weakened. Now that we have better ways to assess the connection, researchers are finding that there remains some connection between living together before marriage and the risk of divorce.

Significance of Commitment to the Relationship

It is important to emphasize that not all cohabitating couples are at a higher risk of getting divorced if they eventually do marry. Instead, recent research suggests that the better predictive factor is commitment to the relationship. Many couples decide to move in together without actually or firmly committing to the relationship and to one another. Then, since they already are living together, the next logical step often seems to be marriage even if the couple is not ready to make that kind of commitment. These tend to be the couples for whom cohabitation is linked with a higher likelihood of divorce, or for whom the “premarital cohabitation effect” is present.

For couples that cohabitate but are fully committed to one another, however, the statistics tend to look different. If two people decide to live together after getting engaged, for example, the “premarital cohabitation effect” does not necessarily apply. Similarly, if a couple commits to the relationship but feel opposed to the institution of marriage at that time, for instance, a future decision to get married to the committed partner does not necessarily spell doom for the relationship.

Contact a Divorce Lawyer in Chicago

There are numerous predictive factors for divorce, and they may not apply to each and every couple. If you need more information about divorce, you should speak with a divorce attorney in Chicago. An advocate at our firm can answer your questions. Contact M. Scott Gordon & Associates for more information about divorce in Illinois.