Research suggests that when people are older when making their first significant life event, whether that is cohabitation or marriage, then their chances are better to stay together over a lifetime.
More American couples are choosing cohabitation before marriage because it offers a chance to share the bills without the cost of marriage. Critics compare this decision as a way to “play house” or share a bed without the consequences of leaving that a marriage contract requires. The Council on Contemporary Families says that cohabitation doesn’t make a couple an automatic divorce statistic either.
For most couples, cohabitation of any type at the age of 23, when adult life begins and people become financially independent, decreases the chances of divorce. Couples who commit to cohabitation (or marriage) at the age of 18 see a 60% chance of breakup or divorce. That rate drops in half at the age of 23.
Here are some of the biggest cons of cohabitation before marriage.
List of the Cons of Cohabitation Before Marriage
1. Cohabitation does not require a permanent relationship.
The benefits of cohabitation often disappear once children become involved in the equation. Pets and shared ownership of significant assets (homes, vehicles, etc.) create challenges during the breakup process, should it occur. Cohabitation doesn’t create the long-term commitments which often encourage people to work out their issues with one another. Most relationships like this end after six years or less, often with greater headaches in parenting plans or asset distribution than a marriage would cause.
2. There is always uncertainty with cohabitation.
Every relationship offers a level of uncertainty which must be evaluated. Every husband, wife, or individual decides each day in their relationship to stay or go. There is less certainty with cohabitation because there are fewer restrictions in place to leave. That creates less satisfaction in all aspects of life for some couples, including their emotional and sexual connections, because the future does not offer as much clarity. Marriage offers a potential destination and final goal, which makes the decision to stay easier because it takes more work to just leave.
3. Couples who cohabitate have less fulfilling sexual lives.
Marriage creates a foundation of loyalty, real or perceived, that gives men and women intimacy opportunities which they find to be more fulfilling. Only 17% of Americans admit to having an extramarital affair. Even for those who do cheat on their spouses, most consider their choice to be morally wrong. 91% of adults say that extramarital sex is wrong, which is higher than it was 40 years ago by over 20 percentage points.
Then there’s the fact that New York University found that women who are married are twice as likely to experience an orgasm compared to those who seek out a casual hookup or maintain a cohabiting relationship.
4. It isn’t a guarantee that marriage is going to habit.
About half of couples who decide to cohabit will eventually get married. Even though 54% of first marriages from 1990 to 1994 began with cohabitation, living together is more stressful for the average person than being married. It requires 7 years of marriage to offset the higher risk of divorce with cohabiting couples compared to married couples because of the stressors involved. Even the reconciliation rates are 33% lower for couples who live together before getting married compared to those who don’t start living together until marriage.
5. Cohabiting couples earn less money than married couples.
People who choose cohabitation over marriage might save on the legal contract costs of getting married, but it also causes them to miss the financial advantages which come when they formally tie the knot. There are several financial advantages to think about if someone weighs the benefits of cohabitation over its disadvantages.
- Spouses do not pay an estate tax.
- Most married couples save on their taxes by filing jointly because of the tax-rate differences with the income brackets in the United States.
- Married couples can gift money to one another with limited consequences.
- Medicare, Social Security, and veteran’s benefits transfer to spouses.
- Health insurance costs are lower for married couples compared to cohabiting couples.
6. It doesn’t change the trauma of separation.
One of the advantages that cohabitation offers is the chance to move on from the relationship with fewer legal consequences. Courts aren’t required to get involved as they are with a marriage, even if there are no assets or parenting plans involved. According to Psychology Today, the reasons why couples break up when cohabiting are the same as they are in any other relationship.
Although infidelity is a top reason for all relationships to end, partners who have outbursts of anger or rage, don’t make their relationship a priority, or prioritize selfishness will cause breakups too. Cohabiting partners can hide these issues just as well as a married spouse.
7. Cohabitation agreements sometimes have limited value.
When children are involved during a breakup when cohabitation is involved, then the court prioritizes what it perceives to be the best interests of the child over everything else. If you’re not married in this situation, you must confirm the paternity of the kiddo before having standing before the court. Then you must prove that your agreement doesn’t conflict with what the child requires. Married couples are always presumed to be the legal child of a spouse in this situation unless evidence is presented to suggest otherwise.
8. You must take extra steps to secure your estate.
If you decide to cohabit instead of getting married, then you must take extra steps to ensure your estate goes to your partner if something happens to you. A valid will, with your partner identified as your primary beneficiary, must be filed to create this shift in assets. Your property would go to your next of kin otherwise. Spouses will generally inherit all property without the need of a will.
9. Marriage laws are based on the contract date of your decision.
Marriage laws override cohabitation agreements for the purposes of disbursement. If you get divorced after you’re married, the time involved is based on when the marriage contract was signed. It doesn’t matter if you signed a cohabitation agreement 10 years before you got married. That means a divorce after 12 months, even if you’ve lived together for 15 years before that, means you can’t collect alimony in most states because you don’t meet the 36-month marriage threshold. If you cohabit, there is no option to collect alimony unless you agree to it within a contract or agreement.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.