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Higher divorce risk for cohabiting couples, study finds

California couples who do not live together before marriage might be less likely to get a divorce if they make it through the first year of marriage. A study that appeared in the September 2018 edition of the "Journal of Marriage and Family" reported that cohabiting couples were actually at a higher risk for divorce in the long term.

This contradicted findings in other studies that living together before marriage led to a lower divorce risk. Researchers said this was due to bias by other researchers. They also said that those studies failed to look at the long term; in the first year, couples who had not cohabited were more likely to divorce. According to the study authors, this was probably because they had to suddenly deal with a number of negotiations and adjustments that were already in place for the cohabiting couples. However, for the years after that, the couples who had cohabited showed a higher divorce rate.

Data from the National Surveys of Family Growth was used in the study. Researchers looked at women who were younger than 45 and whose first marriage had been sometime between 1970 and 2005.

If a couple does decide to get a divorce, they might have to reach an agreement for property division and child custody. If they divorce in the first year, they may have little shared property and no children, so the process might be relatively simple. Couples who have been married longer might need to decide on child custody and alimony issues as well as what to do with property such as a home and retirement accounts. While these negotiations can be emotionally difficult, many couples prefer them to going to litigation and having a judge decide since it gives them more control over the outcome.

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