Cohabiting parents' experience of relationships and separation

Carol Smart and Pippa Stevens
20th Apr 2000

This study of cohabitees who raised children together but subsequently separated examines why couples chose not to marry, even as parents, and how they made arrangements for their children during and after cohabitation.

The researchers found that 'cohabitation' can mean very different things to different couples, ranging from those who started living together as a result of an unplanned pregnancy (similar to 'shotgun marriages') to those who had ideological objections to marriage. Few couples, however, had a reliable knowledge of their legal position on separation.

The findings suggests that policy initiatives should not treat 'cohabitation' as a blanket term for one type of partnership. Moreover, it is important that the children of cohabitees are not neglected by policy initiatives which tend to focus on married parents who are divorcing rather than on unmarried parents who separate.