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Unmarried parents cohabiting: How does it affect children?

Unmarried parents are the subject of a recent study which examines the effect of cohabiting parents on the stability of their children. The study was sponsored by the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values, two groups that seek to strengthen marriage and family life. It points to the steady decline of divorce in Ohio and across the country since its peak in 1979 and 1980. But it also notes that today, 41 percent of all births are children born out of wedlock, though many live with both parents. The study asks if children raised by unmarried parents are at any greater risk emotionally.

Factors indicate there may be more instability in these homes, particularly where there is subsequently a change in caregivers, much like what happens in a divorce. The resultant instability of the "relationship carousel" has a negative impact on the children. The authors of the study point to what they see as an irony for children of the divorce revolution. Understandably gun-shy about marriage, many ended up cohabiting with a partner instead. But the fact of merely cohabiting led to greater instability, which was the primary reason for their avoiding marriage in the first place.

How does this affect children? The study indicates they are at greater risk than children of married couples because the perceived instability has a negative impact. This sometimes manifests itself in external reactions, such as aggression. It can also cause internal reactions, such as depression. But it does not explain why cohabiting relationships in other places, such as in Europe, do not create the same stress in their children.

Child custody and stability issues exist whether or not the parents are married and it is important to note there are many cohabiting parents in successful relationships with thriving children. Whether married or not, some couples separate. When children are involved, issues arise from the change in circumstances. In Ohio, an attorney dedicated to helping families resolve family law conflicts while preserving parental rights and responsibilities may offer some support and guidance to do the right thing.

Source: NPR, "Study: Are Cohabiting Parents Bad For Kids?"Jennifer Ludden, Aug. 16, 2011

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