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Cohabitation Matters — to the Children

Posted By Jolyn Rudelson On 10.28.2011 @ 4:45 PM In General | Comments Disabled

The latest reports show that cohabiting families exceed the traditionally married.  That the cohabiting casually connected has overtaken the legally committed is not really a surprise.  To many, marriage is now thought of as temporary.

I discuss it in my book IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU: A Grandparent’s Guide to Surviving Divorce in the Family:”

 “Couples seem to expect more from marriage these days. But they are not willing to work at their marriages long enough to realize those expectations. They ‘try out’ marriages like they try on shoes, something to be returned at the first sign of blisters.”

More and more couples reject marriage as just a piece of paper. They prefer the casually connection they think of as easier to dissolve.    The role models these couples are attempting to emulate are the  glittering celebrities whose marital instability is legendary and whose cohabitation has somehow helped  this kind of relationship  become acceptable by the society we live in. An example being Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell who with several marriages and his, hers and their children between them are still together.  Several grandchildren have even been added to the mix.

Susan Sarandon’s reign with Tim Robbins was ended with their “split” or disengagement after over twenty years together.   I call these examples Family Boarding House Unions because they consist of unrelated adults and children. These two couples are really not good examples since few of these kind of unmarried unions last this long.

The problem with cohabitation is not really with the adult couple.  The major concern is how this type of relationship affects the children of these unions.  This is especially true of what happens to the children when thesenon-legalized unions do not last. There is much written about children of divorce, including  “Between Two Worlds” by Elizabeth Marquardt and of course my book.     But not much is available about children in ABV (all but vows) Families or those in the Family Boarding House arrangement.

Even though the former negative term about children born to unmarried parents has been removed from all birth certificates what has replaced it is really not so much better. A child born of a non-married union is now referred to as an extramarital child, certainly better than the alternative the out-of-wedlock child.  Being an extra marital child doesn’t make it too easy for these children. As they hear the playground song “First comes Love, then comes Marriage” they learn to understand the order of things. And these children, along with their ABCs, have to learn to deal with the understanding that their parents have never married each other and what is even harder not considered their children important enough to legitimize their union as well as their children’s birth.

Some couples enter into these non-legalized relationships thinking that they will avoid messy legal proceedings if these relationships don’t work out. But unmarried couples with children should really re-think this conclusion. Disentangling an unmarried partnership, which includes the couple’s extramarital children, is not as easy as some of these couples have assumed. They involve the same concerns of child support and property issues that divorcing couples have. Laws have been written to prevent this kind of non-legalized union from escaping the same obligations that those who have followed the more traditional path have always accepted.

When an extramarital child’s unmarried parents split, what are they called? They are not children of divorce ,their parents were never married. Split children doesn’t work and broken-up children is  more descriptive than appropriate.  So I recommend that these children be called Disengaged Children, sharing with Children of Divorce the same burdens, but having additional burdens that are special to them. According to the most recent reports, the hardest problems for these disengaged children will be maintaining a relationship with their natural father. And in addition I hate to think how hard it will be for them to maintain a strong relationship with their paternal grandparents.

However, things may be improving on the marriage front.  Only a few weeks ago Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed, with their two grown children as attendants, finally got married after 28 years of  an ABV (all but vows) Family union.    There is even a report that marriage is in the air for Angelina and Brad as their brood of six children are finally showing interest in having married parents.

Hopefully others who are considering cohabitation will take note that some of their role models are sending the unexpected message that marriage does matter after all—-especially to the children.

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