Dating longer and living together before marriage have legal impacts

In a previous post, we discussed the recent trend of older couples getting divorced at a greater rate than they were 30 years ago. The Baby Boomers are breaking up. But what about the other often-discussed demographic in our society, the Millennials? What family law needs have become relevant to this group due to marriage and divorce trends?

In this article we will look at the major marital issues confronting Millennials and the family law consequences, including:

  • Courting longer and marrying later.
  • The accumulation of more property—and more debt—before marrying.
  • How prenuptial agreements can protect you and your spouse in the long run, and how new rules about California prenups seek to protect both parties.

Millennials: where’s the romance?

Let’s first clarify what it means to be a Millennial: Pew Research defines the demographic as those who were born between 1981 and 1996. This year, then, Millennials are between the ages of 23 and 38.

Many members of this generation grew up with parents who married right out of college, or even before. Maybe Mom and Dad were high-school sweethearts who said “I do” by the age of 20. Those who grew up with that kind of Rockwell-esque example were certain to follow suit, right? For the most part, no.

Research shows that the love stories of the Millennials are quite different from those of their elders. For one thing, the ubiquity of the internet, social media and dating apps completely changed how people meet one another. For another, the experience of Millennials with regard to young adult life is vastly different than their parents: massive student debt, an evaporating middle class and rising costs versus stagnant wages are just a few of the issues facing this generation.

Marrying later a different path to the same destination

Whether it is symptomatic of these big changes or not, the Millennial version of love and marriage is different in many ways. There is one in particular that will have major ramifications in family law: waiting to commit. Couples are not choosing to forego marriage altogether. Instead, they are trying on the lifestyle by dating longer and living together first.

Recent research shows that around 70 percent of women live with someone these days before getting married. In the early 1980s, that number was more like 20 percent. This is a big change in societal trends, a change that has made a positive impact, however, on the rate of divorce. While it might not be the so-called “traditional” route for couples to take, the divorce rate among Millennials is lower than it has been for that age group in the past.

divorce rate by age

The Millennial recipe for marriage requires a dash of legal caution

No matter which demographic a couple or individual belongs to, those who plan to get married plan to stay married. History shows that marriage is hard. Healthy relationships often turn unhappy. And specifically, for Millennials, personal experience may show that even Mom and Dad couldn’t make it work.

This sobering reality is crucial for those in their late 20s and 30s to keep in mind, not just while thoughtfully postponing marriage, but once they decide to actually get married. Men and women in these age groups are entering into marriage with more assets than, for example, a 23-year-old who gets married. The individuals involved might have separate real estate, savings from working for a longer time, or even own their own businesses.

A prenuptial agreement is not just for the rich and famous. It can be for the hard-working, wise, and independently successful Millennial who wants to get married with more financial clarity and protection. Just like giving a relationship time before committing to forever can create a sense of ease within a marriage, discussing financial expectations and putting them into writing can create better understanding and strength in a relationship.

New rules for California prenuptial agreements

People are getting married later in life on purpose. This is a change in decision-making among the generation, not a failure on the individuals’ parts in finding a suitable partner. If Millennials take years to decide to marry someone, why wouldn’t they take just a portion of that time and care to choose the right details of a prenuptial agreement?

There is a right and wrong way to create a thorough and enforceable prenup. The most basic rule to follow is that each person in the relationship needs his or her own, separate attorney. You do not enter a law office as a couple and sit down with one lawyer to create your contract. You both need your separate lawyers to create a contract that will best protect each of your interests, as well as the validity of the agreement down the road. This rule is true for new prenuptial agreements but can also be applied retroactively up to 17 years.

Another crucial point when ensuring a prenup holds up in court is that individuals have at least seven days to receive and review a proposed contract before it is signed. An extreme scenario where this might play out is if a wedding were to occur in six days and one party was faced with signing the contract in order to go through with the wedding. Even if that person signed it, a court would more than likely disregard the terms due to the timing and dubious actions of the other party.

New Trends. Old Trends. Same Advice. Let Your Lawyer Help.

Marriage trends come and go. Divorce rates and statistics change. Divorce laws change. With regards to these matters, a basic truth remains: a family law attorney is an invaluable source of guidance. Whether you are making the thought-out step to move forward and marry your partner or think you made a mistake during the prenup process in the past, an experienced divorce attorney in your area can help.