I recently posted a news article on our Law Office Facebook page about Millennial Marriage and Divorce. It discussed how the divorce rate for Millennials has gone down, but that the percentage of Millennial marriages has also dropped. Millennials are marrying later in life, and many are not marrying at all. Rather, they are moving in together and cohabiting without marriage. The article examined some possible reasons for this. Later, I received a very intelligent and insightful post from a Millennial reader who took a different view of the reasons behind the dip in marriage, and divorce, rates. Here is our thoughtful exchange:
I have a lot of thoughts about the last article you shared on your law page… I haven’t fully formed them yet but I feel like there’s something missing in that analysis, like how my generation views legal marriage as largely outdated in general (outside of financial protection in specific circumstances, or children), and the potential for divorce as more financially threatening than not being married in the first place. And growing up in a time where statistically you had a 50-50 shot of your marriage ending in divorce (which also means that half the people in relationships went through a divorce with their own parents), the odds were never in our favor. Which is maybe why wealthy people are more likely to take the plunge. I have a number of friends who had the wedding and never signed any papers. I think this article is missing a big cultural piece that can’t be inferred by numbers alone.
Maybe the author should have talked to some millennials instead of just looking at the data.
Also it’s hard to ignore that this drop in the number of marriages happens to correspond with the number of women enrolled in college surpassing the number of men…I didn’t notice that addressed in the article either but it seems like that’s probably not a coincidence considering the traditional motivations for marriage, like financial dependency, gender norms, and the end goal of mothering as a societal inevitability.
Great insight and comments. I love hearing your views! I’ll reply soon.
OK, here’s my take: I think one could make a strong case that from a cultural and societal perspective, the institution of marriage is pretty much outdated and irrelevant. It has significance from a religious perspective, but only for those to whom religion is important. But here’s the thing — over the years, in this country, a whole complicated network of laws has developed around the concept of marriage. An important one (in Arizona and other western states) is the theory of “community property,” which stands for the proposition that when a couple marries, everything acquired by both of them, or either of them, after the marriage is considered to be community property, and is owned by each of them 50/50. This includes their incomes from employment. So, for instance, if after the wedding one spouse takes their paycheck and puts money down on a new car and then pays the payments with his/her salary, the car is “community property” and belongs to both spouses 50/50 (even if the purchasing spouse puts the title in their own name). The same is true for monies deposited into bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, etc. And also for purchases of a house, and furniture, etc. It even applies to businesses formed after the marriage. They belong to both parties 50/50 (there are some exceptions and variables that could change the equation, but I won’t go into them here). — However, if the parties were not married, there is no community property. Everything that one partner saves, purchases, or acquires will be his/her separate property; and everything the other partner saves, purchases or acquires will be that partner’s separate property. Nothing will be shared unless the item is titled in the names of both parties as joint owners. If the parties break up, each will be entitled to their property. In the case of a relationship where one person far out-earned the other (and especially in a long-term relationship where one person was a stay-at-home mom or dad and was not employed outside the home), the poorer party could walk away with essentially nothing, while the richer party gets it all. This result is a horrible inequity.
Spousal Maintenance is another thing that is only applicable where a couple was married. If a married spouse gives up her or his career to stay home and care for the children, and the parties later divorce years or maybe decades later, then that spouse could be entitled to an award of spousal maintenance (alimony), possibly for a number of years or even for a lifetime. Spousal maintenance will provide economic stability for that person until she/he can establish a career and become self-supporting. But if the parties never married, then the person who gave up her/his career for the benefit of the family will walk away from the relationship without any financial support at all, because the Court can only award spousal maintenance where a marriage existed. This could mean falling from a comfortable standard of living into a life of poverty.
And until recently, you could only cover a spouse on your health insurance, but not a cohabiting partner.
In the area of Estate Planning, if a spouse dies leaving no will, the surviving spouse is entitled to a share of the decedent’s estate — but an unmarried cohabiting partner (even of 30 years) would be entitled to nothing unless a valid will exists with a provision giving a portion of the estate to that person.
P.S. – With regard to custody of children (legal decision-making and parenting-time) marriage is not much of an issue. A person can establish parentage (usually by DNA testing) whether married or not; and can then obtain court orders for child custody, parenting time, and child support. There are so many children born today to unmarried parents that it is almost the norm. The law had to adjust to that reality, and it did. Maybe someday laws will be made to protect people who are cohabiting but not married.
Thanks for the thorough response, but you obviously missed where I said “except for certain financial situations.”
Nope, I didn’t miss it. I just wanted to explain for you, and others who might be reading this, how those “certain financial situations” can be pretty significant. But I do agree with your premise that Millennials tend to view marriage as an outdated institution, and for good reason. — The example set by my generation made it that way.
Also maybe if women are starting to be more educated than men and have more assets it’s possible they don’t want to split them with a spouse in the case of a divorce. Just saying.
I completely agree.
I think I also read a study once that said that even though the stereotype is that women want to get married more than men, the opposite is actually true.
Probably because men invented the stereotype.
Haha! Probably true!
The law firm of Gary J. Frank P.C. offers strong advocacy for clients involved in Family Law disputes, including divorce, custody, parenting time, inter-state custody or visitation, division of property and businesses, spousal and child support, modification of existing orders, enforcement of orders, relocation / move-away cases, grandparent and non-parent custody and visitation, paternity, child abuse, dependency actions, guardianships, and other matters involving children and families. Our attorneys, Gary Frank and Hanna Amar, are experienced courtroom litigators, as well as mediators, who bring skill, compassion, and a depth of understanding to each matter they handle, and each client that they represent. Our office is located in the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona; and we have satellite offices in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, and Tempe, to more conveniently serve our clientele. You can reach us through our website at garyfranklaw.com; or by telephone at 602-383-3610.