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Here's why divorce rates have fallen

You may have heard that divorce rates have fallen in recent years, and that is true. As divorce became easier in the 1970s, the rates soared. Over the next decade or two, things sort of stabilized. The rate stayed the same. In recent years, the rate has fallen again. It's still nowhere near the pre-70s lows, but it's not as high as it once was.

Some take this to mean that marriages work more often now than they did in the 1980s or 1990s. They think that the most recent generation has figured marriage out in a new way. They are less likely to split up, after all, so doesn't that mean they stay happily married?

Not really. What it actually means is that more young people just do not get married at all. They turn to cohabitation. The idea of living together before marriage -- or without any plans to get married -- is not nearly as taboo as it used to be.

In the past, a couple may have gotten married at 21 and then divorced at 30, for instance. Today, they may move in together at 21, break up at 30, meet other people, and not get married until 35. It's the same pattern. Those young relationships still end. They just do not contribute to the divorce rates anymore because those people did not get married before they broke up.

That does not mean that divorce doesn't still occur. It also does not mean that these young, cohabitating couples don't have legal questions when they break up -- questions that may be more complicated since they're not married. Everyone needs to know what rights and options they have.

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