Millennials are waiting longer to get married, and by the time they do, they are established in their careers, traveled and already even bought a house – together or separately.
This extra life experience could be one of the reasons the divorce rates have been falling, at least for new marriages.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a first marriage lasts at least a decade for 68 percent of women and 70 percent of men. As the years progress, the probability of the marriage ending becomes higher, 52 percent of women make it to 20 years, 56 percent for men.
Sociologists in the Journal of Marriage and Family think there could be a link with declining divorce rates and the increase of cohabitation among 20-somethings. Data from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research says 11 percent of women lived with their partner before marriage from 1965-1974. By 2005-2009, 66 percent of women were cohabitating before marriage.
Gordon Brewer, a licensed marital and family therapist in private practice in Kingsport, Tennessee, says cohabitating is not too bad of an idea, but there could be a lack of commitment. “Anyone can pull the plug at any time,” he says. “Certainly, there is emotional pain, but it is easier from a legal standpoint.”
Living together first can give couples in their 20s a chance to develop, both biologically, and as part of a team, as they learn to compromise with each other, developing values, morality, a sense of empathy and a true understanding of how what they do affects others.
Brewer says people in their 20s and 30s seem to have a lower commitment level to staying married, unless there are children involved. He thinks one factor is that that many people are children of divorce themselves.
“I think that people who have come from families that have been divorced have an easier time with the divorce in that it is more familiar; less of a social stigma for them,” he points out. “At the same time some couples will stay together, and not get divorced, because it was such a terrible experience for them growing up.”
Brewer explains younger couples struggle in marriage because of a high value for ‘individual rights.’
“In other words, individuality is more important to some than an interest in keeping the marriage together,” Brewer says. “I think this is especially so for younger couples in their 20s and 30s.
It is also perhaps this stronghold on individuality that has them less influenced by religion and ‘traditional’ values, so there is less social pressure to stay married, especially once the honeymoon period is over.
“Usually when folks are about 2-5 years into the marriage, sometimes even in the first year, that is usually when the shit hits the fan in terms of the marriage breaking down,” Brewer says. “That is when the initial feelings of being in love have faded, and they have to get down to the brass tacks of knowing each other and how to be committed to each other.”
One issue he has seen with millennials struggling in their marriages is the fact many of them have grown up with parents totally focused on making sure the child had everything. Coupled with the fact we live in a competitive society, people tend to fight for what they want and not necessarily what is best for the relationship.
“When you get married you are not really marrying the other person, you are entering into a different way of life,” Brewer says. “In order for a marriage to work, two people have to be willing to give up parts of themselves for the sake of the marriage, and that is a big shift for a lot of people.”
IRAs, 401ks do matter
Rosemary Frank is a Brentwood-based financial adviser and divorce financial analyst who says people divorcing in their 20s and 30s seem to have fewer regrets and fears when ending a marriage.
“While divorce is painful at any age, the younger ones know they have time to recover financially and possibly build a much better life with someone else,” she explains. “There is great satisfaction in being able to name the problem and have the courage to say ‘this was a mistake,’ rather than stay in a bad situation.”
Frank works hand in hand with divorce attorneys and her clients to work through and identify the financial issues, pitfalls and tax issues that come with a divorce. She says no matter how young you are when you do end a marriage, it’s important to not be short-sighted when it comes to finances.
“They are less sensitive to the value of retirement assets,” she says of younger people going through a divorce. “They have 30-40 years until retirement and say they don’t care about the IRA or the 401k and will instead take the house. That’s a big mistake. They need to value those retirement assets more in their minds. The best thing you’ve got on your side with retirement assets is time.”
Yes, younger people divorcing do have a lot of years to kind of make up for losses. But, Frank points out you never really do make them up.
“Whatever you do going forward, you’ve always lost that foundation,” she says. “That’s applicable to any age really. The younger ones seem to not feel they need to know. The older folks are feeling more like they are facing an ultimatum.”
Pre-nups and royalties
Brewer, who is a member of the clergy in the Episcopal Church, maintains divorce is easier today because there is much less social stigma against it, especially in the South. People still struggle with it, especially if they are religious.
“Tennessee is the belt buckle of the Bible belt, and people do come to it agonizing over the fact they are in a miserable relationship, neither one is happy, but they don’t believe it is right to be divorced,” Brewer explains.
“There is that internal struggle. But God ultimately wants us to be happy and to live happy and have meaningful lives. I am a big advocate for marriage, but if you are in a relationship that is causing misery and the patterns that created the conflict in your marriage are not ending for whatever reason, divorce is certainly an option.”
Jacqueline Newman, divorce lawyer and author of the new book Soon To Be Ex: Your Guide to a Perfect Divorce and Relaunch, says millennials are approaching marriage – and splitting assets –differently.
“With the tech boom and younger entrepreneurs they are accumulating wealth at younger ages,” she adds. “Also, because of the internet, there is more information about what can happen in a divorce, the horror stories, so millennials are becoming more conservative in their outlook. Also, pre-nups have lost their stigma so we see people getting them at a younger age.”
Christian Barker, a Nashville-based music and arts attorney, says a sizable percentage of his practice is devoted to securing and advancing proper administration of royalties, including through entertainment-related prenuptial agreements and entertainment-related divorce.
“In the past decade, especially in the Nashville area that is rich with music and arts creators, there has been a sizable uptick in prenuptial agreements,” Barker says.
These agreements have become a necessity when there is not much money on the line now, but the potential is in years to come. It isn’t just music people who are protecting [assets]. Among millennial entrepreneurs anything intellectual that is fair game is prime for pre-nup protections.
“First and foremost, most people don’t realize that any intellectual property is considered marital property if it is created during the term of a marriage,” Barker says. “The works that are created, whether it’s a painting or graphic design or whatever, all those things are considered intellectual property. And if it’s created during the terms of a marriage it’s considered marital property.”
The increased entrepreneurial nature of the arts industry, in general, has created more of a willingness to approach marriage – and particularly a prenuptial agreement – from a place of understanding, according to Barker.
“It’s generally more accepted and a more comfortable topic than it has been in the past, especially in the Nashville community,” Barker says. “More progressive metropolitan areas with young, aspiring professionals tend to be more open to that.”
Barker says creations such as master sound recordings or compositions – the two main revenue streams from the creation of songs – are considered marital property. As more creatives realize this, Barker adds they are opting to secure prenuptial agreements in advance of entering a marriage to protect the intellectual property they create.
“In the unfortunate instance that a marriage terminates at some point, without a prenuptial agreement in place that states to the contrary, sound recordings and compositions of an artist or songwriter will be apportioned equally between spouses,” Barker explains. “This can create a giant legal headache, because the process for valuation of intellectual property is costly and expansive.”
Regarding the financial aspects, Frank explains those divorcing young need to be more sensitive to the importance of retaining retirement assets in the settlement – and understanding that their spending lifestyle as part of a married couple could be much more diminished after a divorce.
“While there will be more time for financial recovery than if they were older, there is no way to ever replace the true value and benefits of early retirement savings,” Frank says. “Also, younger divorcees seem to be less accepting of the fact that their post-divorce lifestyle will likely be lower than their married lifestyle. They are more prone to fall into poor budget management and succumb to credit card debt following divorce.”
Other than the potential that can come from future income, millennials don’t typically have as much to lose in a divorce, and a shorter marriage means less spousal support.
“When people are married longer, the law is more on their side because they’ve had time to develop a lifestyle, and longer marriages typically demonstrate more career sacrifice, both key factors in determining spousal support,” Newman says.
Mediation (also known as alternative dispute resolution) is a great choice for millennials as they have had less time to accumulate assets so there is less to fight about in court.
“Also we’re seeing mediation has become a more accepted method of divorce as when people have been exposed to the horror stories through social media or online, they are more inclined toward something that gets them through it quick and easy,” Newman says.
Pets and nesting
Among millennials there is a growing concern about pet custody too, says Brette Sember, former divorce attorney and author of multiple books about divorce, including “How to Get Custody of Your Dog.”
“While Tennessee does not yet have a law about animal custody yet, it is a high visibility issue in many states as couples ask judges to devise a custody plan for their dog,” Sember says.
And a modern take on custody does translate to children, if they have any.
“They are more comfortable with the concept of co-parenting and are interested in trying it in newer ways, such as nesting - sharing a home or keeping one home the kids stay in and the parents rotate in and out,” Sember adds.
The tech effect
Brewer explains social and electronic media has had huge influence on 20- and 30-somethings and how they communicate. In relationships, communication can really break down but trying to argue or work through conflicts via texting is always a bad idea because you lose a lot in translation.
“Do not have any significant conversations on text or email,” Brewer adds. “What happens with younger couples is they are so used to communicating that way, they try and work things out via texting and it just falls apart – it is just one-way communication.”
Facebook has also ushered in an unprecedented amount of access into other people’s personal lives. It’s almost overwhelming, with people opening up about their perfect lives as well as their messy divorces more often than ever before.
“Social media has people believing that others have a better life than theirs, unrealistic expectations are not met and that can lead to divorce,” Newman says. “People are less romantic and more likely to recognize the divorce rates. Also, with Facebook and the various methods of connecting with people from their past, there is more infidelity.”
Millennials also know how many other fish in the sea there are, thanks to online dating apps.
“You no longer have to sit at a bar all night, scouting the crowd to see who looks cute,” Newman adds. “You can sit on your phone while you’re waiting to get your haircut and just flip through.”