Opposition to the institution of marriage
Some people just have a negative view of marriage, believing the institution to be bound up with oppressive traditions and patriarchal control, or just seeing it as unwanted interference in their personal lives. To such people, romantic relationships are completely personal affairs that require no external certification, so they refuse to formalise their unions.
Just as common, if not more so, are those people who avoid tying the knot due to their own experiences. Witnessing an acrimonious divorce between parents may leave lasting scars. Others may have gone through a costly divorce themselves. It is all too easy to blame marriage itself for such anxieties and not self-centred parents or a bitter ex. Not getting married can seem like a safe way to sidestep any recurrence of such pain in the future.
A reluctance to commit
Some cohabitees drift into their relationship without much thought. They start seeing each other, chemistry engages and before long they’re an item. At a certain point, moving in together just seems like the most convenient thing to do. If you live together, you see each other every day, you split the bills and share the household chores. But taking it one step further and getting married would mean admitting that the relationship is a serious one and that neither party is footloose, fancy-free or single any more. Younger couples especially may not be ready for such a step.
Some people just don’t want to spend tens of thousands on all the familiar pageantry of a white wedding: lavish receptions, carnations in collars, guests in the grounds of a stately home. It’s all a waste of money better spent elsewhere, they believe, forgetting, perhaps, that it is in fact not necessary to spend a fortune to legally marry. Your union will have just as much legal force if you go to the registry office with two friends and sign the certificate in ten minutes.
The picture changes
These reasons for avoiding marriage may seem very real and important for a few years, but at some point in the lives of most couples, children enter the picture. One partner may start to feel broody – or simply find themselves pregnant one morning. Everything suddenly changes. Discussions begin about whether or not marriage is better for kids. Friends and relatives start dropping hints about tying the knot. Stability, commitment and formality don’t seem quite so abstract or off-putting any more. For the first time, wedding rings, wedding certificates and carnations begin to loom large.
But is this really the right direction to go in if you’re planning to start a family? Should you acknowledge that your freewheeling days are behind you and become an ordinary, everyday married couple? Should you get married for the sake of the kids?
The benefits of marriage
What do the statistics show? Does marriage offer any tangible benefits to future parents? Yes, in fact it does. The biggest and most unarguable one is stability. Children depend on their parents for security and reassurance, but unmarried couples are four times more likely to split up than married ones, with all the upheaval and financial pressures that can accompany separation.
Why this should be the case is open to debate. Perhaps couples who are prepared to formalise their relationships are just more committed, more serious about their partners. The sense of stability and commitment provided by formal marriage can be very reassuring to children as they grow up, providing a comforting sense that their parents will stay part of their lives as the years pass. By contrast cohabitation may seem impermanent and uncertain, especially if the children have seen other unmarried couples breaking up a little too casually.
In any case, children born to unmarried parents are more likely to grow up in poverty and are at greater risk of behavioural problems.
Another meaningful advantage to formal marriage is its legal status. English family law is built around an expectation of marriage. It does not recognise cohabitation (with some limited exceptions). This means that if you do marry, but the relationship later breaks down or your spouse passes away, you will have a number of solid rights as divorcee, widow or widower, rights from which your children will also benefit. These include:
- The right to inherit property.
- Financial support if you need it.
- The right to a fair share of the family assets.
- Pension provision.
None of these are available to cohabitees in most circumstances and if your children still live with you at the time of the divorce or death, they will benefit from the greater financial security you will then be able to provide.
A personal decision
Ultimately, getting married in order to have kids is a very personal decision. As we have seen, marriage brings solid financial and legal benefits that could make your children’s lives better. But the statistics are clear: plenty of unmarried couples start families anyway. In 2021, for the first time ever, 51 per cent of UK babies were born to unmarried parents. And maybe that’s okay. Most of those children will do just fine and grow into happy and healthy adults. You don’t need a marriage certificate to be motivated and devoted parents.
So, should you get married if you want to have kids? At the end of the day, it’s a judgement call.