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Cohabitation is when people live together in an emotionally and/or sexually intimate relationship. The term is most frequently applied to couples who are not married.

People may live together for a number of reasons. These may include wanting to test compatibility or to establish financial security before marrying. It may also be because they are unable to legally marry, because for example same-sex, interracial or interreligious marriages are not legal or permitted. Other reasons include living with someone before marriage in an effort to avoid divorce, a way for polygamists or polyamorists to avoid breaking the law, a way to avoid the higher income taxes paid by some two-income married couples (in the United States), negative effects on pension payments (among older people), and philosophical opposition to the institution of marriage and seeing little difference between the commitment to live together and the commitment to marriage. Some individuals also may choose cohabitation because they see their relationships as being private and personal matters, and not to be controlled by political, religious or patriarchal institutions.

Some couples prefer cohabitation because it does not legally commit them for an extended period, and because it is easier to establish and dissolve without the legal costs often associated with a divorce. In some jurisdictions cohabitation can be viewed legally as common-law marriages, either after the duration of a specified period, or the birth of the couple's child, or if the couple consider and behave accordingly as husband and wife. (This helps provide the surviving partner a legal basis for inheriting the deceased's belongings in the event of the death of their cohabiting partner.)

Today, cohabitation is a common pattern among people in the Western world, especially those who desire marriage but whose financial situation temporarily precludes it, or who wish to prepare for what married life will be like before actually getting married, or because they see no benefit or value offered by marriage. More and more couples choose to have long-term relationships without marriage, and cohabit as a permanent arrangement.


In the Western world, a man and a woman who lived together without being married were once socially shunned and persecuted and potentially prosecuted by law. In some jurisdictions, cohabitation was illegal until relatively recently. Other jurisdictions have created a Common-law marriage status when two people of the opposite sex live together for a prescribed period of time. Most jurisdictions no longer prosecute this choice.

Opposition to cohabitation comes mainly from religious groups, but also some factions of feminists as well. Opponents of cohabitation usually argue that living together in this fashion is less stable and hence harmful. According to one argument, the total and unconditional commitment of marriage strengthens a couple's bond and makes the partners feel more secure, more relaxed, and happier than those that have chosen cohabitation. Opponents of cohabitation commonly cite statistics that indicate that couples who have lived together before marriage are more likely to divorce, and that unhappiness, ill health, poverty, and domestic violence are more common in unmarried couples than in married ones.Cohabitation advocates, in turn, cite limited research that either disproves these claims or indicates that the statistical differences are due to other factors than the fact of cohabitation itself.

The feminist argument against illicit cohabitation centres on the fact that many possessive, jealous, and undeserving men can use the situation to keep an eye on the female Non-Married Presumed Obligate Significant Other (NMPOSO) and make other attacks on the autonomy and rights thereof.


In some Western nations such as the United States and Great Britain divorce laws and family law give more rights toward women in terms of property rights, rights to male working labor of resource provision outside of marriage, sole parental and custody rights to children. In essence, as a legal institution, marriage is an obligation from a man to a woman to support her outside of marriage by the contractual obligations of divorce. In the United States women initiate 2/3 of all divorce. As a result some men choose to avoid what they see as the unequal commitment, responsibility, risk and obligation they would be subject to in the legal contract of marriage. The Men's and Father's Rights Movement and Men's Rights Activists hold similar views and seek equality in divorce and custody law.

Cohabitation by region


  • In Canadamarker, 16.0% of couples were cohabiting as of 2001 (29.8.% in Quebec, and 11.7% in the other provinces).

  • In Mexicomarker, 18.7% of couples were cohabiting as of 2005. Ley de sociedad de convivencia: the Spanish name for "Cohabitation Societies Law", legislation created on November 9, 2006, by the Legislation Assembly of Mexico Citymarker to establish legal rights and duties for all those cases where two people (due to either sexual, familial or friendly reasons) are living together.


  • In Bangladeshmarker cohabitation after divorce is frequently punished by the salishi system of informal courts, especially in rural areas.

  • In Indiamarker, cohabitation had been taboo since British rule. However, this is no longer true in big cities, but is still often found in rural areas with more conservative values. Female live-in partners have economic rights under Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005.

  • In Indonesia, an Islamic penal code proposed in 2005 would have made cohabitation punishable by up to two years in prison.

  • In Japanmarker, according to M. Iwasawa at the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, less than 3% of females between 25-29 are currently cohabiting, but more than 1 in 5 have had some experience of an unmarried partnership, including cohabitation. A more recent Iwasawa study has shown that there has been a recent emergence of non-marital cohabitation. Couples born in the 1950s cohort showed an incidence of cohabitation of 11.8%, where the 1960s and 1970s cohorts showed cohabitation rates of 30%, and 53.9% respectively. The split between urban and rural residence for people who had cohabited is indicates 68.8% were urban and 31.2% were rural.

  • In the Philippinesmarker, around 2.4 million Filipinos were cohabiting as of 2004. The 2000 census placed the percentage of cohabiting couples at 19%. The majority of individuals are between the ages of 20-24. Poverty was often the main factor in decision to cohabit.


  • In Denmarkmarker, Norwaymarker and Swedenmarker, cohabitation is very common; roughly 50% of all children are born into families of unmarried couples, whereas the same figure for several other Western European countries is roughly 10%. Many couples decide to marry later.
  • In late 2005, 21% of families in Finlandmarker consisted of cohabitating couples (all age groups). Of couples with children, 18% were cohabitating. Of ages 18 and above in 2003, 13.4% were cohabitating. Generally, cohabitation amongst Finns is most common for people under 30. Legal obstacles for cohabitation were removed in 1926 in a reform of the Finnish penal code, while the phenomenon was socially accepted much later on among non-Christian Finns.
  • In the UKmarker, 25% of children are now born to cohabiting parents.
  • In Francemarker, 17.5% of couples were cohabiting as of 1999.

Middle East

  • The cohabitation rate in Israelmarker is less than 3% of all couples, compared to 8%, on average, in West European countries.
  • Cohabitation is illegal according to sharia law (for the countries that enforce it)


  • In New Zealandmarker, 18.3% of couples were cohabiting as of 2001.

See also


  1. Alternatives to Marriage Project.
  2. [1]
  3. Anne-Marie Ambert: Cohabitation and Marriage: How Are They Related?. The Vanier Institute of the Family, Fall 2005)
  4. Women and Islam in Bangladesh By Taj ul-Islam Hashmi, page 112
  7. :: GMA News.TV ::
  8. The Finnish population structure of 2005 at Statistics Finland (Finnish/Swedish)
  9. Elected MPs and candidates by family type in 2003 at Statistics Finland (English)
  10. [2]
  11. See commentary on verses : Vol. 3, notes 7-1, p. 241; 2000, Islamic Publications
  12. Tafsir ibn Kathir 4:24

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