Cohabitation which refers to two people living together and are engaged in a sexual relationship without a matrimonial ceremony is becoming a substitute to marriage for most couples in the 21st century. Couples are cohabiting for various reasons from means to experiment a relationship before tying the knot to it give partners more independence than marriage as it requires less personal commitment.
The decision to cohabit can be done through a verbal or mutual understanding between partners to live together and enjoy each other’s passionate and sexual needs. For a country like South Africa that does not recognise common law marriages, pre-marital and non-marital relationships are causing significant changes in union formation. Thus, there is need to create awareness on the consequences of cohabitation to help couples understand the dangers associated with such commitments.
According to Premier International Dating and Marriage (2012), cohabitation gives couples a chance to have a glimpse on how marriages work if they ever intend on getting married. This is a tell-tale behind the scenes as Bwalya Mwale calls it as it allows her and her partner Brad Banda gauge the level of their relationship with regards to whether they are well-matched for each other. The two who have been cohabiting for a year and three months state that living together has given them a platform to decide as to whether they would do well living under the same roof and tolerate each other’s behaviours on a daily basis.
Secondly cohabitation gives partners an opportunity to get familiar with each other’s aggravating habits. Bradley supports this point by saying cohabitation gives couples a platform to get comfortable with certain things such as dressing or farting in front of each other. “This is because living together helps you open up and in due time you get used to your partner, the one you want to spend the rest of your life with.” He backs up his point by relating how shy he was to even look at Natasha when they first started dating; he states that every time he looked her, he would get nervous and start sweating. Therefore, living together has helped them understand each other’s feelings and appreciate each other more.
Thirdly cohabitation is the opposite of commitment as it gives partners independence, self-fulfillment and freedom to continue searching for the right partner and job mobility. This is because partners can decide on where to go and work without having to think about what the partner feels or wants because the other partner does not own them. This makes partners free spirits as they can explore the world if they wanted to.
Despite the above mentioned advantages, cohabitation also has its disadvantages. These disadvantages include the idea that cohabitation relationships are usually fragile and are likely to break up more frequently than ordinary marriages. According to Waite, 1999, on average cohabiting relationships last less than two years before breaking up or converting to marriage and less than four per cent of cohabitation last for ten years. Furthermore, the longer a man and woman cohabit the more likely they are to divorce of they got married because they are already used to living together and as a result lose interest in tying the knot.
Partners that cohabit tend to have more health problems than married people because partners have to put up with behaviour that husbands and wives would not tolerate and discourage. Habits such as smoking, alcohol and substance abuse usually lead to depression among couples that are cohabiting because none of the partners have the right to tell the other what to do and not do. Charmaine agrees with this because she has had instances where she and Samson have fought over him drinking and smoking. Furthermore, couples cohabiting are likely to be unfaithful to their partners than married people.
According to statistics provided by Statistics South Africa a large number of people are living in domestic partnership. The 1996 census discovered that about 1, 268,964 people were living with a partner and in addition to this; the 2001 census estimated that about 2.4 million individuals were living in domestic partnerships therefore doubling the figures of 1996. These statistics show that cohabitation is becoming a trend and a norm for both males and females such that it is becoming a substitute to legal marriage in South Africa.
With regards to cohabitation, couples can sign contracts that secures their futures in case the relationship is terminated or a partner dies. For instance a couple can enter into a Universal partnership which is a partnership, express or tacit agreement that exists between couples that are either heterosexual or of the same sex (lesbian or gay). The couples act as partners in all financial and business traits without a legal marriage binding them together. Therefore in cases where a relationship ends, the court has to give part of the assets obtained during the course of the relationship to both couples. For instance each partner would be given fifty or thirty per cent of the all assets jointly owned.
The above information illustrates the consequences of cohabitation and the continuous trend in the country. It is important for the government to implement the Domestic Partnership Bill of 2008, because the bill will assist and prevent people from having to spend so much money in courts for claims. Additionally the need to educate the public on cohabitation is equally important because in South Africa, many couples’ particularly young couples are engaging in cohabitation without fully understanding the consequences on finances and expenses.