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New study shows more unmarried parents living together

Much of Minnesota family law has its origins in times when cohabitation outside of marriage was frowned upon and birth outside of marriage was considered scandalous. These attitudes have changed greatly in recent years. Statistics in a new government report show that increasing numbers of couples are choosing to live together in order to raise children without getting married. This shift could mean some changes for family law.

The report, by the National Center for Health Statistics, studied data from 2006-2010 and found that about 18 percent of single women who became pregnant moved in with a boyfriend before the birth. The percentage of unmarried pregnant women who chose to marry after becoming pregnant but before the birth was only 5.3 percent. Just 20 years ago, 25 percent of such unmarried women chose marriage.

The statistics go hand-in-hand with other recent findings. According to one survey, 41 percent today are to unwed mothers. About 25 percent are to unmarried cohabiting mothers. According to a University of Minnesota study, the shift toward cohabitation is most pronounced among people with high school diplomas and some college education, who represent a rapidly growing segment of unmarried cohabiting couples.

When cohabiting couples split up -- and many of them do -- the parties have few of the legal protections that married people have when they divorce. However, the laws regarding child custody and child support are essentially the same whether the parents were ever married or not. Under Minnesota law, biological parents have rights to at least visit their children, and all parents have duties to support their minor children.

When Minnesota parents are engaged in a dispute over child custody or child support, they can benefit from the help of an attorney with experience in many aspects of family law. Families are changing all the time, but legal rights and obligations remain.

Source: Seattle Times, "As cohabitation gains favor, shotgun weddings fade," Hope Yen, Jan. 7, 2014

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