New study claims that having a child before marriage no longer raises divorce odds

Charlotte Divorce Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What children’s expenses are covered by child support?”


In recent decades, sociological research has consistently found that couples who had a child before marriage were much more likely to divorce than couples who married first.  However, according to new research released by the Council on Contemporary Families, those findings may not be accurate.


Rings in box Charlotte Child Custody lawyer Mecklenburg Divorce FirmThis new study reveals that cohabiting couples who have a child before getting married no longer face a higher risk of divorce than those who get married first.  Researchers reviewed data collected by the National Survey of Family Growth on women who had their first child between 1985 and 1995 and compared it to those who had their first child between 1997 and 2010.


The 1995 sample was consistent with previously conducted research.  In that sample, couples who lived together, had a child before marriage, and later went on to marry were more than 60 percent more likely to divorce than couples who married before having a child.  The 2010 sample, however, produced a different result.  The 2010 sample revealed that couples who lived together, had a child, and then went on to marry had no higher chance of divorcing than couples who married before having a child.


Why the sudden change?  According to lead researcher Kelly Musick, one reason for the change could be that living together before marriage no longer carries a social stigma.  “Living together has become a common part of the family landscape in the United States and many advanced industrialized countries,” Musick told the Huffington Post in a recent interview.  “There is less pressure nowadays to marry and more leeway in how to organize family life.”  She went on to add that “Many couples may be jointly planning marriage and childbirth as the quality and commitment of their relationships grow, with little regard to which comes first.”


Couples who shack up together before getting married have also been at the center of recent divorce rate studies.  Studies done right up until the 2000’s indicated that couples who lived together first got divorced more often than those who didn’t.  However, just last year, a paper in the Journal of Marriage and Family claimed that these past studies have overstated the risk of divorce for cohabiting couples.


According to Arielle Kuperberg, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the important characteristic is not whether couples lived together first, but how old they were when they decided to share a home.


“It turns out that cohabitation doesn’t cause divorce and probably never did,” Kuperberg told Time in a 2014 interview.  “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 which couples are at a greater risk of splitting up?  The new research released by the Council on Contemporary Families indicated that the only cohabiting parents with a significantly higher chance of breaking up were those who never married.  Musick and her research team found that about 30 percent of couples who never married separated within five years.


If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter, then you need the help of experienced family-law attorneys in Charlotte, North Carolina who can help guide you through the often confusing process of divorce. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.


About the Author

ARNOLD & SMITH LAWMatthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A certified Family-Law Specialist, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state and administrative courts in North Carolina, before the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, and before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.






Image Credit:

“I have married (15030712786)” by Takashi Hososhima from Tokyo, Japan – I have married. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –



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