Byline: DAVID COHEN
JANINE SCARISBROOK grew up in a middle- class home with parents who believed you got married before you lived together.
But Janine, and her friends at Lancaster University, where she was studying for her Bachelor of Music, saw little merit in the 'empty ritual of marriage'.
Real commitment, they believed, lay in the heart and mind, not 'a meaningless piece of legal paper'.
Ten years ago, when Janine was 19, she met and fell in love with David, a handsome self-employed builder 15 years her senior, and promptly moved in with him.
Later, they bought a house together in Windermere, Cumbria.
'My parents strongly disapproved,' she recalls. 'But it didn't bother me.
'There was no social stigma. If anything quite the opposite. When one of my colleagues at university got married and had a child, my friends and I thought it quite shocking that she should want to do that.' After four years of living with David, Janine began to think about children. 'We had built our nest and now I desperately wanted to put something in it.' David deflected the idea at first, but when he turned 40, he decided the time was right to start a family. For the first time, Janine, then 25, began to think of marriage. 'I wanted our child to grow up in a secure two-parent family and marriage seemed the best way to achieve that.' But how could she bring it up at this late stage? 'I didn't want to push it, because, as David said: "We're having a child together - what could be more of a commitment than that?"' Janine dropped the subject, and she and David concentrated on trying to have a baby. Five months later, as he was about to go on a jog, she grabbed him affectionately and said: 'David. There's something you might like to think about while you're on your run: I'm pregnant.' David just stood there. 'Oh well, it's what you wanted,' he said flatly, before scuttling out the door.
Janine spent the day trying to rationalise his behaviour. 'I thought he just needed time to adjust.' AS THE pregnancy progressed, David's behaviour changed dramatically. 'I think he just freaked out at the encroaching reality of becoming a father.
'More and more, he seemed to back away from me, preferring to go out drinking with his single male friends. He didn't want to talk about the baby at all. I felt upset and alone.
'It was like we'd stood on the edge of a pool, hand-in-hand, and decided to dive in together. I had dived into the deep end, but when I surfaced he was still standing on the edge.' In January 1999, Janine gave birth to George.
David seemed to love him, but he also seemed increasingly distant from Janine.
She started to suspect that he was seeing someone else.
Five months later, after a row in which he finally admitted that he had indeed met someone else during Janine's pregnancy, he left. It was remarkably easy to do. Despite six years together, and having started a family, there were no formalities. He just packed a suitcase. Within a few days he was cohabiting with another woman.
Janine was devastated. She had become a lone parent - something she never expected.
But a study released last month shows that Janine should not have been so surprised.
Jill Kirby, author of Broken Hearts: Family Decline And The Consequences For Society, published by the Centre For Policy Studies, says cohabiting couples are six and a half times more likely than married couples to split up after the birth of a child.
Within five years of the birth, 52 per cent of cohabitees have split up, compared with only eight per cent of married couples.
Over the past 30 years, we have witnessed a drastic shift in society's attitudes towards marriage. In 1971, just eight per cent of children born in the UK were born outside of marriage.
Today, it is 39 per cent and rising.
Kirby's report shows that cohabitation, or marriage-lite as some social scientists call it, is not the harmless alternative to marriage many had imagined.
At a conference on the family in September 2000, Home Office Minister Paul Boateng took the 'politically-incorrect' step of endorsing marriage as the arrangement most likely to create family stability.
'We know that cohabitation is less likely to inculcate stability in a family than marriage. But that is not making a moral judgment.
It is just a fact,' he said.
It is the women who struggle the most when they are left alone with the children. It's ironic, for early on in a relationship it is often regarded as a badge of a 'liberated woman' not to be dependent on a man, not to care too much about something as 'uncool' as marriage.
LATER, this attitude comes back to haunt them. When they are pregnant and vulnerable, and what they really need is commitment, it is too late to insist on marriage because a precedent of playing by 'other unconventional rules' has been set.
The financial consequences for cohabiting mothers who split from their partners are often more devastating than for divorced mothers.
They have few rights when it comes to a share of his assets, let alone a portion of his income. All they can expect is a relatively small amount for child maintenance - and at a time when they
may have left their job and are reliant on the partner's income.
It is a lesson Lisa Edwards, 31, from Shipley in West Yorkshire, has learnt to her cost. Lisa was an upwardly mobile sales executive working for Bloomsbury publishers when she met Rupert (not his real name), a 37-year-old chef at one of the best-known French restaurants in Leeds.
Lisa was a firm believer in marriage. 'Marriage has always been very important to me,' she says.
'It's easy to cohabit, but taking one's vows had great meaning for me as well as for my parents.' At the time, Lisa was 27 and engrossed in her career. She was earning [pound]25,000 a year and drove a sporty, racing-green, 1.8 litre Golf.
Though she and Rupert were always in and out of each other's apartments, babies were not on the agenda. But six months into their relationship, Lisa fell pregnant. 'I didn't run to the pharmacy to buy the morning-after pill.
We decided to let fate take its course.
I was coming round to the idea of having children anyway, and so it seemed as good a time as any.' She moved into his apartment and they began to talk about marriage. 'I was really desperate for us to be a proper family. The last thing I wanted was to bring up a child alone.
'My parents were lukewarm. I found out later that it was because they were not too fond of Rupert.
They had seen things in his personality that would only become apparent to me later.' Rupert's mother was warm and supportive, but his father was outraged. 'He refused to even discuss the fact that I was pregnant because we weren't married.' Lisa's plan was to get married, have the baby, and then after about six months of maternity leave, return to her job.
To begin with, Rupert was in favour of a wedding, but as time went by, he started saying that he felt under pressure. 'He was struggling to come to terms with the idea of being a father and sole provider. Our relationship began to deteriorate. I soon discovered that he was a manic- depressive and that he was seeing a therapist.
HE HAD managed to keep this concealed from me while I had the good job and plenty of money. But after I became pregnant and more needy, this side of him came out big time. At times, he was verbally abusive.' A few weeks after the birth of their son Zachary, Lisa moved out.
'Motherhood came naturally to me, but Rupert was loath to change a nappy and kept saying: "I can't bond with him."
'I was losing patience. He insisted on smoking in the flat, even though it was unhealthy for the child, and he seemed to prefer the company of his single male friends. I remember-lying in the bath one morning.
We'd just had another row, I was crying my eyes out, and I decided: I can't do this any more.' What she will never know is if the formal contract of marriage would have encouraged Rupert to make the leap from being a boy to a ' supportive husband and father'. But she suspects it might. 'There is more of an impetus to try to work things out when you are married.' Lisa has gone from a well- off, middle- class woman to one in poverty, reliant on income support and housing benefit. 'It was really, really hard. I had to buy the cheapest food at the cheapest supermarket. And it was the charity shop for mine and Zachary's clothes.' She has become a staunch advocate of marriage.
She has a new boyfriend, Edward, 26, a textile designer and will not make the 'cohabitation mistake' again, she says. After a year of going out, she is due to marry him in August.
Sometimes, the birth of a second child sends the cohabiting relationship into free-fall. This was the case with Mandy Penman, 38, whose partner, Jay, 30, a printer, left her soon after the birth of their second daughter, Kate, and six years after the birth of their first, Laura.
Mandy grew up in Buxton, a middle-class town in the Peak District, and worked as a manager for Ladbroke's in Crewe.
Although she never knew her father - he left her mother before she was born - from the age of six she lived with her aunt and uncle who were happily married.
'I was all for marriage. Living with my aunt and uncle, I saw it through rose-tinted spectacles.
And not having had a dad myself, I really wanted my child to grow up in a proper family.' She fell for Jay when she was approaching 30. He was intelligent, shy and unassuming, all qualities Mandy valued, but he regarded marriage as 'a meaningless piece of paper'.
During the first pregnancy, Mandy and Jay remained close. After the birth, he would babysit while Mandy went out and sold Ann Summers products, building up a successful business.
'We were living like a married couple,' she says. They moved to a large three-bedroom flat in the best part of town, then into a house. They were doing well.
BUT their dual-income relationship also imposed additional strain: it meant that they spent less time together. Over the years they began to drift apart.
When Mandy fell pregnant a second time, Jay asked her to have a termination, but Mandy refused.
'Our relationship went downhill after that,' she says. 'For two years, I tried to talk to him, especially for the children's sake. But he'd just go and sit in another room and sulk, or hang out with his single male friends.
'Then one day, when Kate was 15 months old and Laura was six, I came home to discover that he had been looking for a new place.
'Within two weeks, he had packed his bags and left. I was terribly upset, especially for the children.
'I should have read the signals from the beginning. A man who is unwilling to get married is probably scared of commitment, scared of responsibility, scared of growing up. Some men want to stay boys for ever. At the first sign of difficulty, they run home to their mummy or into the arms of another woman.' Thirty years ago, men and women got married if they wanted children.
Today, there are no rules. But marriage, it seems, is still the best container we have for negotiating the inevitable sticky patches that arise in relationships.
For as counsellors will tell you, in order to negotiate change within a relationship - and the impending arrival of children always involves dramatic change - a couple needs every bit of help they can get.
Marriage provides a robust framework for working through that change that cohabitation simply can't match. Cohabitation allows boys to stay boys, and couples to shrink from the challenges of compromise and maturity that come with all long-term relationships.
It is a lesson that too many women, left holding the baby and living a life they thought would never happen to them, are learning to their cost.…