Living together without being married used to be referred to as "living in sin."  Often viewed as an act of rebellion or part of the sexual revolution, living together fifty years ago was considered a scandal and not very common. However, times have changed. 

Collin County divorce attorneys explain that in the past half-century, cohabitation has increased an incredible 1,500 percent.  As of 2012, approximately 7.5 million couples were living together.  Studies from the 1970s until the present have sought to determine the relationship between the sharp increase in cohabitation and the equally dramatic increase in the national divorce rate during those years. Specifically, does cohabiting prior to marriage make it more likely that a couple will divorce?

Sliding, Not Deciding

The simple answer is that although cohabiting prior to marriage is not a determinative factor, it does make divorce more likely. Studies repeatedly show that couples who cohabit are on average 33 percent more likely to divorce than couples who go directly from dating to marriage. This conclusion contradicts what most people believe about living together, and ironically, it also contradicts the reason why many couples cohabit in the first place: living together prior to marriage is a good test of whether a couple is compatible enough for marriage, and therefore decreases the chance of divorce. 

The fault in this logic begins with the mindset of the couple cohabiting.  If the couple moves from dating to sleeping over from time to time, to sleeping over more often, to moving in, this "sliding not deciding" phenomenon often occurs without a real decision or even a real conversation regarding what moving in together means.  No expectations are discussed, no commitments are given, and the "why" of living together is never explored beyond perhaps convenience and cost-sharing.  Sliding down this slope further may mean two people who have never fully committed to each other and have chosen a life together now marry because it is the "next step." 

The Marriage Mindset

Sliding into an arrangement without defining it may seem like it leaves you an easy way out, but in reality it may mean that it never gives you what you want.  Digging deeper into the results of studies on the cohabitation effect, experts believe that it is the mindset of the couples rather than the cohabiting itself which is the determinative factor.  If the couple only cohabits with each other (neither person is a serial cohabiter), if they have mutually understood plans to marry, and if they are 23 years or older, then the couple is likely to have a similar marital outcome to couples who do not cohabit prior to marriage.

Living together as a precursor to marriage means that you view your partner as a potential spouse, and not simply a roommate.  Interestingly, survey respondents repeatedly indicate that they have lower standards for a potential cohabiting mate than for a potential spouse.  Is it any wonder then, that marrying a cohabiting mate not originally looked at as a potential spouse more often leads to divorce?

If you would like more information on this topic, or if you would like to discuss cohabiting agreements, contact the Collin County divorce attorneys at Nordhaus Walpole, PLLC.