Does Cohabiting Harm Children?

cohabitingRecently, the news of the divorce of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner has dominated tabloid headlines across the country. The celebrity couple surprised many when just a few days after they announced their split they were spotted vacationing together in the Bahamas.

It turns out that Affleck and Garner have decided to join a growing trend by cohabiting. The pair plans to continue living on the same 8,800-sq.-ft. estate in Los Angeles in order to more effectively co-parent their three children who are 9, 6 and 3 years old.

“We go forward with love and friendship for one another and a commitment to co-parenting our children whose privacy we ask to be respected during this difficult time,” the couple told People in a joint statement.

Affleck and Garner are seemingly making a very selfless decision. Divorce can have a number of negative effects on children and by choosing to cohabit the couple is making sure their children have both parents involved in their lives.

“The benefits of living in the same house if you are separated is that you have familiarity and, certainly for  your children, they hopefully will have the opportunity to see you work something out even when it’s difficult,” psychologist Janet Taylor told ABC News.

But is cohabiting really in a child’s best interest? A lot of research would indicate otherwise.

A 2002 study published in the Urban Institute found that children living with cohabitors are more likely to be poor, food insecure, read too infrequently, and exhibit more behavioral problems than those living with married couples.

Children in cohabiting families are often much more likely to experience unstable living environments at some point in their lives. According to a 2013 study in the UK by the Marriage Foundation, nearly nine out of 10 children born to cohabiting parents will see their family break up by the age of 16. A 2013 National Marriage Project report found that children of cohabiting parents in their 20s are three times more likely to experience the dissolution of their family than children born to married parents.

Some context and perspective for these numbers is necessary. There are plenty of children who grow up with married parents who are exposed to a host of risks because the couple is unable to get along and provide a healthy living environment. On the other hand, there are many cohabiting couples perfectly suited to raising children. Recent research from Bowling Green University’s Center for Family and Demographic Research even found that long-term cohabitation in a good relationship has very few serious consequences for children.

Ultimately, each couple’s situation is going to be unique. A cohabiting situation might work out perfectly fine for one family and spell disaster for another.

Before making a decision regarding cohabitation, it is important to take an honest look at the risks you might be exposing your children to.

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