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Living together before marriage leads to divorce? Not anymore.

Relationship patterns have changed. Those changes, including more and more couples living together before marriage, have had a profound impact on family law issues such as division of assets, child support, spousal support and equitable distribution in the case of dissolution.

Historically, Washington state couples, as well as couples across the country, that chose to live together before marrying used to be considerably more likely to divorce in the long run. That trend has changed as cohabiting before marriage has become increasingly common. In the late 1960s, around 10 percent of couples lived together before they married. Now, around 60 percent of couples make the choice to move in together before marrying.

Half a century ago, cohabiting before marriage meant a higher likelihood of dissolution. But, not anymore. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collected data from 22,000 men and women from 2006 to 2010. Approximately 40 percent of the people in the study were married. They ranged in age from 15 to 44.

The data indicates that couples who made concrete engagement plans and lived together prior to marriage were just as likely to remain married 10 and 15 years later as couples who had not chosen to live together. About 60 percent of couples in both cases stayed together for 15 years. Couples who cohabitate without getting engaged and then later marry are slightly more likely to divorce, with about 53 percent of marriages lasting 15 years or more. The data is consistent with other studies showing that almost 50 percent of all first marriages are expected to end within 20 years.

In the event of divorce or dissolution, the period of cohabitation before marriage is relevant. An experienced family law attorney can assist couples in finding creative ways to protect parental and financial rights.

Source: The Seattle Times, "Move-in before marriage no longer predicts divorce," Mike Stobbe, March 22, 2012

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