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Researchers say divorce risk higher for cohabiting couples

Living together before marriage could raise a Massachusetts couple's divorce risk over the long term, according to a study that was published in the September edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family. Researchers used data from the National Surveys of Family Growth on women younger than 45 who were in first marriages between 1970 and 2015.

Earlier studies found that couples who lived together before they got married had a lower divorce risk than partners who did not. However, the new study contradicted those findings. It found that while the divorce risk was higher in the first year of marriage for people who had not cohabited before marriage, after that first year, the risk reversed.

Researchers said the earlier studies were biased because only looked at the shorter term. The study authors theorized that for couples who did not live together before marriage, there was an adjustment shock in the first year, and this increased the likelihood of divorce for those couples. While couples who lived together might be able to avoid that first-year adjustment, their divorce risk over the subsequent years was higher.

Spouses who decide to divorce may need to negotiate property division, child custody, child support and alimony. If they have been married for a year or less, the divorce might be relatively straightforward. There may be no children and little property to divide. After a few years, however, couples may have children and a home. One person may buy out the other and keep the home, or the couple might need to sell it. An attorney can help a divorcing spouse develop a fair separation agreement.

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