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Three Ways Millennials Might Change Divorce Forever

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Here at WIFE, we write about divorce a lot. That’s because divorce is often the single most expensive life event a woman may experience. A divorce can change a woman’s financial trajectory dramatically, which often has negative consequences for her quality for life for years to come. With that in mind, we thought it would be worthwhile to look at the millennial generation as it begins hitting its prime marriage (and divorce) years.

How is this newest adult generation (born between 1982 and 1997) changing the landscape of marriage and divorce?

Cohabitation Instead of Marriage

According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, only 11% of women who were married between 1965 and 1974 cohabitated with their partners before walking down the aisle. These days, cohabitation is the norm rather than the exception. NCFMR found that 66% of today’s women live with their spouse before marriage. That may explain, in part, why the average age of marriage has been steadily creeping up as the millennial generation hits their mid-20s and early 30s and why marriage rates overall are at historic lows. (According to the Pew Research Center, the average age of marriage for a woman is 26. In 1960, the average age was 20.)

Cohabitation instead of marriage changes the financial dynamic when couples separate. (Some states have common law marriage on the books, but simply living together does not automatically give you common law marriage status.)

In a divorce, each spouse is entitled to a portion of the couple’s shared marital assets. This benefits the lower-earning spouse (often the wife). A wife who left work to raise children or to stay at home might also be entitled to spousal support. None of this support is legally required when cohabiting couples separate. If one partner owns the house, the other partner may have no easy or affordable housing options!

Later Marriage Means More Assets in Play

Now that the average age of first marriage is 26 for women and 29 for men, both spouses are likely to come into the marriage with significant assets. They may both own property, separate retirement accounts, and even own their own businesses. This can make things tricky during a divorce when the couple (or eventually the court) must determine what is marital property and what is non-marital property.

Spouses coming into a marriage with significant assets should strongly consider writing a prenuptial agreement.

The End of Divorce As We Know It or… a Wave About to Hit?

In 2015, the NCFMR found that divorce rates had hit a 40-year low. (Though, notably, they are rising among Baby Boomers!) Researchers are still trying to figure out what is behind this trend, but some early theories suggest that it’s related to the fact that millennials are marrying at a later age and are more likely to cohabit before marriage. The thinking goes that cohabitation may allow couples to “test” a marriage before diving in, which can prevent bad marriages and future divorces. Others suggest that couples are simply happy to cohabit without marriage. Fewer marriages equal fewer divorces.

Finally, it could be that since millennials are marrying at a later age, they simply haven’t had enough time yet to get to the divorce stage. If this theory is correct, then lower divorce rates may just be the calm before the storm.

Only time will tell if millennials eventually catch up to their parents’ rates of marriage and divorce. Here at WIFE, we’d like to believe that as adults marry later in life, they are able to make more mature and experienced decisions about whom to choose as their life partner, which will result in a better chance at a long-term marriage.

For those who aren’t so fortunate, we invite you to attend a Second Saturday Divorce Workshop where you can learn how to effectively prepare for divorce.

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