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Ending an unmarried relationship: an un-divorce?

For some women, delaying marriage until they are older, have completed school and begun their career, has become standard. And some women enter relationships and never marry. In the last two decades, another trend has developed, with more women having children in their 20s and then remaining unmarried.

Marriage, to be sure, is not without its problems. Many marriages end in divorce. For women, however, the legal superstructure that surrounds marriage and its ending in divorce, provides various protections that are unavailable to the unmarried women.

From property settlements identify the assets the women will receive in the divorce, to potential spousal support or alimony, to custody arrangements with visitation schedules, a divorce decree provides an enforceable agreement, supported by the authority of the courts.

For an unmarried couple with children, the only certainty is the requirement of child support. Beyond that, they are literally on their own. Because there was no legal recognition of their relationship, there is no legal means to end that relationship.

This means they have to work out all the details without the guidance of the family law structure and if one of them becomes uncooperative, there may be no good way of forcing any action.

For women, this is particularly a problem, as they often have had the duties as caregiver for the children, and may have been out of the workforce or only working in a limited capacity. After the relationship ends, they may find themselves economically disadvantaged, with no means to request support from their ex-partner.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "The New Unmarried Moms," Kay Hymowitz, W. Bradford Wilcox and Kelleen Kaye, March 15, 2013

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