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Study raises questions about the cohabitation effect

Researchers have long held that marriages are less likely to end in divorce when couples live together before walking down the aisle. However, a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family's September 2018 issue suggests that what is known as the cohabitation effect may be extremely short-lived. Experts believe that couples who live together happily before getting married will find married life far less disrupting, but researchers from Stanford University discovered that this was only true for the first year of marriage.

The researchers criticized earlier studies into the cohabitiation effect for looking solely at the short-term consequences of living together before marriage. To provide a long-term perspective and a deeper understanding of the issue, data on American women gathered between 1970 and 2015 by the National Surveys of Family Growth was used for the latest study.

Using this larger database, the researchers found that couples who lived together before marrying were less likely to seek a divorce during their first year of marriage, but the odds of their marriages ending in a divorce were higher in each subsequent year. This would suggest that cohabitation has a negative rather than a positive impact on marriage. The researchers concede that they went into the study believing that couples who live together before marrying are more compatible and expecting the cohabitation effect to be more long-lasting.

Experienced family law attorneys may advise couples who live together to guard themselves against the cohabitation effect by entering into prenuptial agreements before getting married. Prenuptial agreements provide marriages with a solid foundation and protect them against fear and uncertainty by letting spouses know where they stand. However, they must be entered into willingly and should be essentially fair or they may not withstand judicial scrutiny. Each party will need to be represented by separate counsel during the process.

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