Cohabitation changing family dynamics

Friday, November 15th, 2019 06:07 |
Long-lasting relationship.

You probably might have attended a colourful wedding and by the look of things, costly. However, a few months after the union, you receive news that the friends you went out of your way to support formalise their union are no longer together. Well, could this have been avoided if the couple just decided to move in together or cohabit?

Recently, billionaire Manu Chandaria excited many when he solemnised his 64-year-old marriage with the love of his life Aruna Chandaria. Chandaria, 90, married Aruna, 85, through a civil ceremony. The business mogul who traditionally married Aruna years ago admitted that love fades in marriage, but emphasised on compromise as a key ingredient to a happy marriage. “Sixty-four (years) is a long time and the only thing is that how comes it has continued. It’s because of give and take from both sides and consideration for each other,” he said.

According to a 2017 study by Infotrack, divorce rate in Kenya stand at 80 per cent. However, is the situation the same on the ground or is it that many marriages in Kenya are not registered, hence the statistics may not paint a true picture?

A presumed marriage is not legally recognised. Anthony Odeck, a lawyer says the Marriage Act 2014 defines cohabiting as a living arrangement in which an unmarried couple lives together in a long-term relationship that resembles a marriage. There are, however, no available statistics on cohabitants because it is not recognised by the State. 

Still, the main question many people ask is, are presumed marriages better than the other systems of marriages? Are they less likely to have low cases of divorces?

Immaculate Mogeni, a psychologist says it is hard to study the act of living together because every couple is different. According to her, cohabitation has been on the rise in the country because many couples might want to test the viability and compatibility of their partner before a long-time commitment such as marriage. Also, the institution of marriage has suffered a great deal in the recent past, with spousal killings, infidelity and the rising cases of divorce and separation. This makes young people question the importance of marriage.

Increased risk

“The high cost of weddings in the midst of rising economic hardships and high unemployment rates, makes one raise the question, why should I spend hundreds of thousands on getting married whereas I can just ask a girl to come and stay with me as we figure things out together?” she poses.

Additionally, cohabitation is becoming the fastest growing family type because while people are delaying marriage, they are not delaying sex, living together, or childbearing.

However, in her opinion, cohabiting makes marriage easier and simpler only if you intend to make it legal in the long run.

She says the reason many couples who have cohabited share a more intimate relation is because they are used to living together. “You see, they share most things, be it rent, household chores, and even financial burden,” Mogeni adds.

Those who live together before marriage have an advantage because they are already used to all the changes and challenges that come with living together. Those who go straight into marriage without living together have a bigger immediate shock to negotiate after marriage, and as a result, have increased risk that’s greater than those already living together.

Also, the delay in marriage makes the couple to start investing in the relationship long before marriage, hence it becomes harder to break. And because of the inertia of living together, some people get stuck longer than they otherwise would in relationships they might have left or left sooner. 

How do you make cohabitation work? Evaluate your motivation for living together. Is it just out of convenience? Is it to spend more time together? Are you uncertain about the relationship and want to make a more informed decision? Or, is it a prelude to marriage? “However, it is important to note that every relationship is different, hence it is hard to conclude that people who stay together before marriage last longer than people who come together after their union,” Mogeni says.

Potential dangers

But in the meantime, people need to be informed of the potential dangers of not securing their position in the event of a relationship coming to an end on the breakup or death of a party. 

Many people in this situation don’t know that they are not well protected in the event of a separation and there have been cases of people literally being left out in the cold because they have been evicted from a house they have shared with their partner for years. With no legistlation in place, the only way for partners to protect themselves and their assets in the event of a split is to prepare a cohabitation agreement or property ownership document with advice from legal specialists from the outset.

However, in case  a man dies having had children with his cohabiter, Odeck says, provided the woman can prove the children belong to the deceased, probably through DNA, or she can prove they were dependent on him or that the property was jointly acquired, she can argue it in court.

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