Victims of Marriage Lite*; That's What Sociologists Now Call Cohabitation. but Figures Show It's a Commitment That Can Fall Apart When Children Arrive, as These Unexpectedly Single Mothers Found to Their Cost

By Cohen, David | Daily Mail (London), April 10, 2002 | Go to article overview

Victims of Marriage Lite*; That's What Sociologists Now Call Cohabitation. but Figures Show It's a Commitment That Can Fall Apart When Children Arrive, as These Unexpectedly Single Mothers Found to Their Cost


Cohen, David, Daily Mail (London)


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. …

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