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Study looked at role of marriage in family stability

There's an old jump rope chant that some Louisiana readers may recall that talks about the normal course relationships often follow. First comes love; then comes marriage; then comes baby in a baby carriage.

That model is still held up by some as ideal. But it's not followed quite as diligently as it used to be. Couples may or may not get married before launching into parenthood. And for some, that raises a question about possible effects on family stability.

That is a question two researchers from Cornell University and University of Michigan attempted to answer. They looked at survey data from two separate time frames -- one in the 1990s and the other in the 2000s.

Their objective was to compare and rate family stability among couples who didn't live together before marrying and having children, those who cohabited and married around the time of the birth of a child, and those who cohabited, had children and never married.

They begin by noting that data show that births among unmarried women have nearly doubled in the last 25 years. Further, they observe that a large proportion of that increase has occurred in the last 10 years among parents who cohabit, rather than marry.

What they conclude is that social attitudes have blurred to a point where couples just don't feel pressured to marry first. Rather, they say the data indicates that marriage and children often follow out of a couple growing in personal commitment to each other.

The researchers say instability can happen in families when parents' living arrangements change. But that is true whether a couple lived together before marriage or not. Indeed, cohabiting couples who never married have higher rates of breakup than other couples do. But the researchers say data show that cohabiting couples who married around the time a child was born had similar breakup rates as couples who married without ever having lived together. So, cohabiting itself is not a predictor of instability.

What is predictable is that whether a couple is married or not, legal issues can complicate family matters. To find effective solutions, it's always best to consult with an experienced family law attorney to be sure everyone's rights are protected.

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