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Study questions link between divorce, cohabitation

Of the many theories related to marriage and divorce, none has perhaps stood the test of time longer than the one claiming that those couples who choose to live together before walking down the aisle are far more likely to end up in divorce court.

However, despite the longevity of this theory, statistics show that the nearly two-thirds of all couples here in the U.S. now spend some amount of time living together before getting married.

Does this then mean that the divorce rate among these cohabitating couples is sky high?

According to a recently released study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the answer is not only no, but also that previous studies supporting the connection between cohabitation and divorce were actually way off the mark.

The study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, theorizes that it's not cohabitation itself that steers a couple toward divorce, but rather the age at which they first began sharing a living space.

 "It turns out that cohabitation doesn't cause divorce and probably never did," said the primary author of the study. "What leads to divorce is when people move in with someone -- with or without a marriage license -- before they have the maturity and experience to choose compatible partners and to conduct themselves in ways that can sustain a long-term relationship."

So why then has cohabitation been linked to divorce for so long?

According to the researchers, the longstanding link between cohabitation and divorce probably stems from the fact that in the past couples struggling financially tended to move in together and then marry once a child was on the way. However, they would ultimately divorce once their financial situation failed to change.

Even though this perhaps points more to poverty as being more of a reason for divorce than cohabitation, the researchers indicate that this was simply not the interpretation that caught on in academic circles over the years.

Interestingly, the researchers also identified 23 as being the age at which couples possess the minimum maturity needed to succeed in either marriage or cohabitation.

What are your thoughts on this study? Do you agree that the link between cohabitation and divorce is tenuous at best? Do you think 23 is the magic number for marriage or moving in together?

If you would like to learn more about divorce or divorce alternatives, you should strongly consider consulting with an experienced attorney. Together, you can outline your options and discuss your options moving forward.

Source: Time, "How shacking up before marriage affects a relationship's success," Belinda Luscombe, March 12, 2014

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