A family lawyer will handle a variety of cases at any one time—division of a complex estate in a high-end divorce, custody modifications, child support issues, and adoption to name a few. Lately, family lawyers have added a different type of divorce to the mix–the millennial divorce. Just because a millennial divorce isn’t as complex as that of a couple who has amassed a lifetime of property, cash, and debt to divide doesn’t mean it shouldn’t require the same level of expertise from an experienced family lawyer. “The millennial stereotype is that they aren’t as loyal as previous generations, and that traditions don’t mean as much to them,” says Elizabeth Hunter, a family lawyer with Quilling, Selander, Lownds, Winslett & Moser, P.C. “I have found that while many millennials delay marriage, it is just as important to them. The difference is, once they know the marriage isn’t working, they don’t tend to stay in it as long as their parents did. Most of my millennial clients are educated, work, are very career-oriented, and open to more diversity in a relationship. They want the marriage to work, but won’t waste time if they know it can’t.”
According to The Pew Research Center, marriage rates in the U.S. are declining, with just 26 percent of millennials married. And while divorce rates in America are the lowest they’ve been since the 1980s, they still exist. In any marriage or divorce—millennial or not–preparation is key. Sometimes this comes in the form of a prenuptial agreement. Again, this is something the millennial couple approaches differently than previous generations. They consider a pre-nup more of an estate planning tool and a step toward a better marriage, rather than a line drawn in the sand before the ceremony ever takes place. “I think many millennial couples look at pre-nups as part of their communication and planning—drawing a map about how things will look if things don’t work out,” Hunter says. “It’s more realistic than it is unromantic to them. Because both parties often work and are well-educated, they have an equal interest in not only building, but preserving, wealth. A pre-up naturally fits within that plan.” Although their thoughts and ideas surrounding the institution of marriage may be different, millennials still view marriage as an important life step. “There’s no question the millennial divorce is simpler, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing for my clients,” Hunter says. “They see divorce as a new beginning rather than a bitter end. They don’t seem to be as vengeful as clients who have been married for a long time and have more to divide. I don’t feel they connect as much stigma to divorce as people once did. My millennial clients tend to be more practical.” Millennials who decide to forego marriage in exchange for living together may find themselves in a family lawyer’s office as well. Texas is one of the few states in the nation that recognizes common law marriage, although a couple must prove more than living together to be considered common law married. To be safe, Hunter recommends cohabitation agreements. “In a cohabitation agreement, you can agree not to have a common law marriage and put things in place regarding the residence and any other assets you share so that in the event of a break-up at any point, there are no questions about who owns what or who gets what,” she says.
I think many millennial couples look at pre-nups as part of their communication and planning—drawing a map about how things will look if things don’t work out
For millennials beginning the journey of engagement and marriage or cohabitation, Hunter recommends considering the following tips before taking the plunge:
- If you’re going to cohabitate, know the laws in your state about what is, and is not, considered common law marriage. Don’t assume that because you’ve lived together for five or more years, the same laws that apply to a married couple also apply to you.
- Before you marry, become familiar with family law in your state. Laws and guidelines vary. Being knowledgeable about family law prior to marriage doesn’t mean you are already preparing for divorce. It just means you are informed.
- Pre-nuptial agreements aren’t a bad thing nor a bad sign for things to come. Don’t be afraid to talk about your finances and plan for the future, as there are no guarantees about what will happen. Pre-nups exist to help manage expectations.