American marriage rates are down to 51 percent from a high of 72 percent in 1960, reports the Houston Chronicle. But it is among young adults — the so called 20-somethings — that the marriage rate is really low, closer to 20 percent, nearly a third of what it was in 1960.
One explanation offered for the dismal American marriage rates is that people are simply waiting longer to get married (average marriage age for men is 28.7 and 26.5 for women). Other explanations are that religious people are more likely to be married and the decline in identification with religious traditions may be playing a role in a decline in marriage too, reports the Chronicle.
What a decline in marriage means is that other, alternative, living arrangements will become more normative. This could include cohabitation, single-person households, and single parent households.
Unlike marriage, cohabitation in American can be entered into without formal requirements. But this has costs. During the relationship, one member may need to defer to couple’s family members in health-related decisions, unless there is a general power of attorney.
Although a cohabitation can be ended informally, the emotional costs might be the same as of divorce. Also, once the relationship is over, couples don’t incur obligation to support each other, unless they made an agreement to that effect.
Finally, the father of a child born to cohabitants does not get automatic presumption of paternity. He must establish it legally. If that happens, he will then incur legal obligation to support child. If cohabitation ends, the non-custodial parent will have a legal obligation to support his or her children as do divorced parents.
If you are among the many people avoiding marriage but engaging in cohabitation you should consider speaking to an attorney to make sure you are aware of all your rights and responsibilities.