A Thought for Father’s Day: Cohabitation Reform

It’s Father’s Day when many will celebrate (or not) the virtues and value of fathers!  Increasingly, more children do not know their father or are conditioned to not even acknowledge, ‘Dad.’  Government has many fatherhood initiatives. However, the value of fathers marrying the mothers of their child(ren) is ignored. The best father is a married father. 

Research shows that children with both a mother and father in their life are better off in virtually every way.  According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children living with both biological parents are the least likely to experience a host of adverse family experiences compared to peers living with just one or neither biological parent.

Bringing fathers and mothers together is worthwhile for our children, communities and our future. Marriage is a proven way to make this happen. Cities that create Community Marriage Policies, according to the Institute for Research and Evaluation, found that divorce rates fell 17.5% on average, with nearly a tenth of cities slashing divorce rates by 50% or more. CMP cities also cut cohabitation rates by one third compared to similar cities in the same state.

Government should support rather than undermine this time-tested institution. This Father’s Day we have a proposal for Kentuckians.

We call it Cohabitation Reform. Currently, your tax dollars are supporting couples to live together and, in turn, discouraging couples to marry and create more stable family environments.

Last year 8 million couples were cohabiting. Two-thirds of those who married were living together.  However, with 2.2 million marriages annually, that means only 1.4 million cohabiting couples tied the knot.

What about the other 6.6 million cohabiting couples?  Most broke up. On average, cohabitation lasts 15 months.  The grim odds are that four of five cohabiting will split before a wedding.

This will come as a shock to the woman who thought that if she moved in with her boyfriend, he would see what a wonderful wife she’d make and propose.

That’s one of the myths my (Mike) wife and I identified in our book, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers.  The boyfriend knows she would marry him if asked. By cohabiting he enjoys convenient sex, shared rent and companionship – without commitment.

When she discovers he is not serious, she moves out.  No longer the same hopeful, attractive young woman, her searing experience has left her less self-confident, possibly embittered or depressed.

Also she may be pregnant or have a child.  Cohabiting couples have children at nearly the same rate as married couples – 41% vs. 46%, respectively. Those children are three times as likely to be expelled from school or get pregnant as those from intact homes, five times more apt to be poor and 12 times more likely to be incarcerated.

To the rescue comes “Uncle Sugar,” to quote Mike Huckabee.  Unwed mothers qualify for welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, housing and day care subsidies, etc.

The Heritage Foundation estimated that in 2004 those subsidies cost taxpayers about $20,000 annually per unwed birth or divorce with a child (with inflation – $25,000 today).

In Kentucky, with 23,000 unwed births, taxpayers dole out a huge $575 million for one year of births. What’s more, cohabiting couples that marry are more likely to divorce.

What can be done?

Kentucky is in a legislative election year.  We propose candidates say, “If I am elected and you have an out-of-wedlock child and are living with the father, Kentucky wants to encourage you to marry – best option for parents and especially, children. However, if you marry today you would lose benefits worth about $25,000 per year.

“Therefore, I’ll propose a legal change…if you marry, you lose NO benefits for two years.  Benefits then taper off the following three years. Married men earn more than cohabiting men, are more committed to their family, and need no subsidies. Kentucky should subsidize couples with children to marry rather than subsidize cohabitation.” A win/win for couples, children and Kentuckians!

“In time, costs to taxpayers will fall. We could save $250 – 500 million annually as more couples marry and fewer children are born to unwed couples.”

How about “Cohabitation Reform?”

This would save Kentucky taxpayers $2.5 to $5 billion over the next ten years.

More will marry. Children will have a better future.

And many more will celebrate a Happy Father’s Day!

Copyright © 2014 by Greg Williams, Director of The Family Foundation’s Kentucky Marriage Movement and Mike McManus, President of Marriage Savers.