Saturday, April 16, 2016

Cohabitation, Marriage, and Union Instability in Europe

From Family Studies:

There has always been a fierce debate about the relationship between cohabitation and divorce risks. Some argue that cohabitation lessens people’s commitment to partnership and thus increases their risk of divorce, while others believe that a cohabitation phase before marriage (as a trial marriage) would strengthen marital stability. In the United States, data suggest that the effect of cohabitation on marriage is at best neutral; however, in European countries, the effect of cohabitation on marital stability varies markedly, according to a study covering the last decade of the twentieth century (Liefbroer and Dourleijn, 2006).

In some countries, like Austria and the USA, over 30 percent of individuals’ first unions were cohabiting relationships, while in other countries, like Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Spain, and the UK, more than half of all first unions were marriages not preceded by cohabitation. Cohabitation followed by marriage is most common (describing more than 30 percent of first unions) in Austria, Germany, and Norway.



Why such variation in union formation and stability? The legal foundations of cohabitation and marriage differ from one European country to another. In some countries, like the Netherlands, simply living together for a few years provides a legal basis to the cohabitation and allows the couple to act together (for instance, to obtain a home mortgage based on both partners’ incomes). In other countries, establishing a legal basis for cohabitation may require a contract drawn up by a notary, or a registration at the town hall (France). Further, in some countries, dissolving a legalized cohabitation has to be done in court, especially if there are children involved.

In most European countries (especially those that have used the Napoleonic Code Civile for their own laws), getting married is not a religious act, but a secular one that must take place before any religious marriage ceremony. This is the case in the Netherlands, for example. And even in places like Italy where one can become legally married within a religious ceremony, only civil laws, not the laws of the religion, are relevant for the ceremony’s consequences (for instance, divorce). Therefore, in some nations, the differences between a legalized cohabitation and a marriage are slim. When couples can enjoy some of the legal and financial benefits of partnerships without marrying, they may be more likely to simply cohabit.

Read more here.

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