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Cohabitation:
Living Together and Life Partners

Cohabitation is an emotional and physical intimate relationship which includes a common living place and which exists without legal or religious sanction.

Description

Several common reasons that lead couples to decide to live together include: wanting to test compatibility or establish financial security before marrying, a desire to live as married when same-sex, interracial, or interreligious marriages are not legal or permitted, living with someone before marriage as a way to avoid divorce, a way for polygamists to avoid anti-polygamy laws, a way to avoid the higher income taxes paid by some two-income married couples (in the United States), and seeing little difference between the commitment to live together and the commitment to marriage.

Some couples prefer cohabitation because it does not legally commit them for an extended period of time, and because it is easier to establish and dissolve. In some countries (such as Scotland) and some states in the United States, such cohabitations can be viewed legally as common-law marriages, either after the duration of a specified period or the birth of a child of the couple, or if the couple consider one another as husband and wife and behave accordingly. (This helps provide the surviving partner a legal basis for inheriting the deceased's belongings in the event of the death of their cohabiting partner.)

Today, cohabitation is a common pattern among younger people in the Western world, especially those who desire marriage but whose financial situation temporarily precludes it, or wish to prepare for what married life will be like before actually getting married. More and more couples choose to have long term relationships without marriage, and co-habitate as a permanent arrangement.

Opposition

Traditionally in the Western world, a man and a woman who lived together without being married were socially shunned and potentially persecuted by law. In some jurisdictions, cohabitation was illegal until quite recently. Other jurisdictions have created a Common-law marriage status when two people of the opposite sex live together for a prescribed period of time.

Opposition to cohabitation comes mainly from conservative religious and family ethics groups. Religious arguments aside, opponents to cohabitation usually argue that living together (as opposed to marriage) is unstable and hence harmful for both partners, as well as for the children (if there are such). According to one argument, the total and unconditional commitment of marriage strengthens a couple's bond and makes the partners feel more secure, relaxed, and happier than those that have chosen to 'test the waters'. Opponents of cohabitation commonly cite statistics that indicate that couples who have lived together before marriage are more likely to divorce, and that unhappiness, ill health, poverty and domestic violence are more common in unmarried couples than in married ones. Cohabitation advocates in turn cite research that either disproves these claims or indicates that the statistical differences are due to other factors than the fact of cohabitation itself.

In The United States

Statistics

In some States of the United States, there is no legal registration or definition of cohabitation, so demographers have developed various methods of identifying cohabitation and measuring its prevalence. Most important of these is the Census Bureau, which currently describes an "unmarried partner" as "A person age 15 years and over, who is not related to the householder, who shares living quarters, and who has a close personal relationship with the householder." Before 1995, the Bureau euphemistically identified any "unrelated" opposite-sex couple living with no other adults as POSSLQs, or Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. and they still report these numbers to show historical trends. However, such measures should be taken loosely, as researchers report that cohabitation often does not have clear start and end dates, as people move in and out of each other's homes and sometimes do not agree on the definition of their living arrangement at a particular moment in time.

As of 2001, in the United States 8.2% of couples were cohabiting.

In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 4.85 million cohabiting couples, up more than 1,000 percent from 1960, when there were 439,000 such couples. A 2000 study found that more than half of newlyweds lived together, at least briefly, before walking down the aisle.

The cohabiting population, although inclusive of all ages, is mainly made up of those between the ages of 25 and 34

Legal status

Some places, including the state of California, have laws that recognize cohabiting couples as "domestic partners". In California, such couples are defined as people who "have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring," including having a "common residence." This recognition led to the creation of a "Domestic Partners Registry", which is available to same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples in which at least one of the partners is age 62 or older, granting them limited legal recognition and some rights similar to those of married couples.

Decades ago, it was illegal in every state for adult lovers to live together without being married. Today, on the other hand, just seven (7) states (North Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Idaho and Michigan) still criminalize cohabitation by opposite-sex couples, although anti-cohabitation laws are generally not enforced. Many legal scholars believe that in light of in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) such laws making cohabitation illegal are unconstitutional (North Carolina Superior Court judge Benjamin Alford has struck down the North Carolina law on that basis).

In Europe

  • In Denmark, Norway and Sweden, cohabitation is very common; roughly 50% of all children are born into families of unmarried couples, whereas the same figure for several other Western European countries is roughly 10%.

  • In late 2005, 21% of families in Finland consisted of cohabitating couples (all age groups). Of couples with children, 18% were cohabitating. Of ages 18 and above in 2003, 13.4% were cohabitating[13]. Generally, cohabitation amongst Finns is most common for people under 30. Legal obstacles for cohabitation were removed in 1926 in a reform of the Finnish penal code, while the phenomenon was socially accepted much later on among non-Christian Finns.

  • In the UK, 25% of children are now born to cohabiting parents.

  • In France, 17.5% of couples were cohabiting as of 1999.


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