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Why might living together before marriage increase your odds of divorce?

A new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family addresses the much disputed link between cohabitation and divorce.  In recent years, an increasing number of couples have elected to live together before getting married.  With the ever growing incidence of cohabitation, social scientists have conducted several studies with the goal of determining the impact of living together pre-marriage on divorce rates.  The results of the studies have varied, but the newly released study by authors Michael J. Rosenfeld and Katharina Roesler purports to have discovered that premarital cohabitation is associated with higher rates of divorce.

For Many, Cohabitation Leads to Marital Struggles

Rosenfeld and Roesler’s study examined data sets from the National Surveys of Family Growth which included women 44 years and younger involved in their first marriage.  In synthesizing the data pool, the authors found that during the first year of marriage, couples who cohabitated had lower divorce rates than couples who did not.  This is likely because couples who cohabitated go through less of a transition, whereas couples who did not live together pre-marriage must learn to adapt to one another.  

Over time, however, couples who cohabitated tended to divorce at higher rates.  Those who lived together pre-marriage were more likely to experience struggles during the marriage and ultimately divorce. This finding has been fairly consistent with the results of other studies, but it is unclear as to why.  Why would living with a spouse before marriage ultimately result in strife?

With few theories to explain the seemingly consistent findings on cohabitation and divorce rates, other studies have set out to identify potentially conflating factors.  Some research has purported to find another explanation between cohabitation and divorce, and that is age.  Generally, those who cohabitate will move in together at a younger age than those couples who marry right away.  At least one study published in the Journal of Family and Marriage claims that when couples are compared by the age that they move in together, there is no difference in divorce rates between those who cohabitate and those who do not.

While more research is needed on the effects of cohabitation and divorce, any couples who are cohabitating and intend to get marry should take steps to protect themselves legally.  Consider entering into a prenuptial agreement and consult with a family law attorney before the wedding.