The divorce rate in the United States today is indeed declining, in large part because of the types of people who are choosing to get married as well as the types of people who aren’t. That’s the conclusion of an article published this past fall in The Atlantic — one that makes us think about an option heading into marriage that more couples should think about.
First, the good news: Between 2008 and 2016, the divorce rate declined by 18 percent. Even when factoring in for demographic shifts in the population, the downward trend is divorce is evident, bucking the conventional wisdom of years past that once the door was open to divorce being a more socially-accepted option, that more and more people would pursue it.
The article quotes John Hopkins University sociology professor Andrew Cherlin who makes a particularly apt point regarding divorce. He notes, “In order to get divorced, you have to get married first.”
College graduates are now more likely to get married than people who stopped their education at high school graduation. There’s also a particularly sharp decline in the number of college graduates who decide to divorce, meaning that the people who are more likely to get married are more likely to stay married.
The picture Cherlin paints is of a more financial stable and mature group of college graduates getting married, not as prone to experience the financial stress that can impact marriages. As he points out, “If you’re older, you’re more mature … you probably have a better job, and those things make it less likely that you’ll get into arguments with your spouse.”
Conversely, there’s a trend toward people with less education choosing cohabitation over marriage. It’s happening enough to contribute to one of the article’s most startling statistics: “Just over half of women in their early 40s with a high-school degree or less education are married, compared to three-quarters of women with a bachelor’s degree.”
Of course, being happy in a marriage requires more than just being financially secure with a spouse. There can be financial stress even for couples who make good money, infidelity can affect all kinds of couples, and a number of other factors can lead couples to grow apart and decide to divorce.
One thing that occurs to us, considering who’s likely to get married, is the importance of pre-nuptial and even post-nuptial agreements. For people who come into marriages with considerable assets, have part or full ownership in businesses, or have situations that might not be so straightforward to settle in a divorce, the pre-nuptial agreement allows for the creation of a legal document that protects a couple from litigation.
The only difference between a pre-nuptial and a post-nuptial agreement is when they’re established. As the names indicate, a pre-nuptial agreement is signed prior to the legal marriage of the couple, and the post-nuptial agreement is entered into once the couple is legally married – for example, to account for one or both parties becoming business owners during the marriage.
With a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement, a couple agrees to the distribution of various assets and liabilities either acquired before the marriage or during the marriage. While there are rules that determine community and separate property that assist judges in litigated divorces, the pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement provides greater clarity, addressing assets or ownership stakes specific to the couple signing it.
Some people are understandably hesitant to bring it up, thinking that the mere mention implies they’re expecting the marriage to end in divorce, and are looking to somehow make the divorce easier when it comes time to split up.
But the pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements actually can help a couple preparing for marriage – the process of putting one together helps a couple understand their financial picture going into the marriage, and allows for a couple to have a less contentious divorce in the case that things don’t work out. We’re happy to meet with any couple who believes they might benefit from the protections and peace-of-mind it can bring.