FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-12-19
Not long ago, the “American Dream” included marriage, 2.5 children, a dog and a white picket fence. But, the rise in couples who are living together and not getting married seems to indicate that definition no longer fits; the American Dream is changing.
More And More Couples Live Together Before Or Instead Of Marriage
Couples of all ages are choosing to live together before marriage or as an alternative to marriage, according to an analysis of the Census completed by the non-profit Population Reference Bureau. Cohabitation is no longer uncommon either; according to Census data, 15.3 million heterosexual people are living with a significant other in the U.S.
While living together is a useful indicator of a successful marriage or the likelihood of divorce is debatable, cohabitation among people in their 20s or early 30s is still often viewed as a step toward tying the knot. But, cohabitation is no longer just for couples who view living together as the ultimate test of whether a marriage will endure.
Nearly half of couples currently living together in the United States who are not married are age 35 or older, according to Census data. The number of Baby Boomers - those over 50 - who are cohabiting have increased by more than 10 percent from 2000 to 2010. Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, credits this shift to an emerging view of cohabitation as a “long-term alternative to marriage.”
While couples may be slower to tie the knot these days, or are choosing not to marry at all, the same is not true of deciding when is the right time to move in together. According to social demographer Sharon Sassler of Cornell University, half of couples who choose to live together do so within the first six months of becoming sexually involved with each other.
Children and The Changing American Dream
The shift toward cohabitation has not been connected to a downward shift in the desire to have children; perhaps that part of the “traditional American Dream” is still intact? While the majority of couples who live together do not have children, it is a slim majority. Over 40 percent of cohabitating couples also have children living in the home.
Children living in homes with unmarried couples may be the joint children of the cohabitating couple or they may be children from a prior relationship. Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University notes that the rise in cohabitating couples explains a similar rise in children born to unmarried parents.
Why The Shift In The American Dream?
The reasons couples are choosing to live together before marriage vary based on their own individual circumstances, according to Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau. Perhaps it is simply a change in perspective from “What should I want?” to “What fits me and my lifestyle at this point in time?” that is creating the shift.
As divorce rates have risen and more and more people can name an increasing number of individuals they know who have been through divorce, couples may be shying away from marriage or remarriage. (Based on Census data, 63 percent of couples who live together have never been married while 34 percent are divorced or separated.)
For those who have been married before, living with a significant other may be the extent of the legal commitment they want to make so as to avoid the possibility of going through divorce again. Cohabitation may also present an alternative to marriage that would allow for the continuation of certain benefits, including some Social Security benefits spousal support in the event of a separation or divorce.
Ending A Lengthy Relationship Can Be Complicated
Irrespective of whether a couple has a actually “tied the knot,” dissolving a relationship after a lengthy period of cohabitation can often raise as many difficult issues as a divorce. Who will have custody of the children or pay support? How will the equity in any real estate be divided?
The rights of an unmarried person cohabitating with another are significantly differente than those of a married person looking at the end of a relationship. In either case, the person should look to an experienced attorney to find out where he or she stands.