As a society we are inundated with the idea of young love. From books to sitcoms to Hollywood rom-coms, we see stories of young couples falling helplessly in love and living happily ever after. However fiction and reality are two completely different animals.
It’s always nice to see a couple who first got together in school or university and are still going strong several decades later, but it is not the norm. Young love, while exciting, is more often than not short-lived.
This week, the national press reported that British Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington is planning to divorce her husband. The 27 year-old swimmer and her 24 year-old husband were only married 18 months before they announced it was over. And they now have a child to consider too.
I will not speculate on the specifics of the couple’s reportedly amicable split, but I will say that it is not all that uncommon and sadly all too predictable from my perspective having advised thousands of people on broken relationships throughout my career.
While 18 is widely regarded as the beginning of adulthood in most Western cultures it is by no means the end of a person’s growth and development. In fact, most people are still in the process of finding out who they really are during their 20s. They’re out of the education system and dealing with the real world for the first time. During this period, it’s natural to fall madly in love and see that person as ‘the one’. Additionally, settling down is often seen as the ‘grown up’ thing to do.
But what happens if someone who marries in their early 20s is not the same person by the time they celebrate their 30th birthday? This can lead to friction between married couples or simply cause them to slowly drift apart. It’s sad but true. People change. What and who they are in reality may not be as wonderful once the rose-tinted glasses are off and life settles down into a hum drum routine. This is especially true with the non-stop demands of a young child.
People who marry later in life are likely to be more financially secure, more mature and know what they want. They have a better chance at staying together. They have experienced more of the world, they have established who they are both professionally and personally. Their heads are unlikely to be turned as easily. This gives their partners a pretty solid basis on which to base a relationship.
Marriage is a big step for anyone to take. I can understand some people’s eagerness, but it is too important a commitment to be rushed. Many couples appreciate this and decide, as a first step, to live together first, try it out, see how it works, put off the big day and put off having a child until they are both absolutely sure.
Cohabitation can help people decide if their partner is who they want to spend their life with before they walk down the aisle. But even this does not come without potential issues if, for example, they buy a house or just contribute to the deposit, invest regular sums of money into running it, or do indeed start a family without being aware of the legal drawbacks.
If a couple does decide to live together and not get married at all, they would not have any specific legal protections if the relationship comes to an end. Although there have been efforts to introduce a cohabitation law to address this issue, they do not seem likely to be successful any time soon.
So it would always make sense to check. Ask yourself the question lawyers ask: what would happen if things go wrong? Do you get your money back? Do you get a share of the house? Who keeps what if you split up? Who stays in the house? Who provides a home for the main carer and the children? How much might that cost not only in terms of helping to provide a home but a lump sum and ongoing child support? Would paying for a carer’s allowance be appropriate? What would happen on death? The same protections marriage gives to a legally recognised couple are simply not there for cohabitants. They have no recognised legal protection. So think about setting up a Cohabitation Agreement – a declaration of trust in relation to property and making a will.
Pledging to spend your life with another person is a big deal, whether it is through marriage or just living together. Both have positive and negative points which need to be rationally weighed up. Two of the best things to help make such a decision are age and experience.