Since becoming a guardian ad litem, I have become much more conservative regarding live-in arrangements, especially when children are involved. The reason I’ve changed is due to the unmitigated misery suffered by affected children I see on a regular basis. “Families” who are committed to each other and assume they will marry someday but don’t see any pressing need to marry at this point, frequently combine existing families and often have more children, together. Unfortunately, they often then break up. Even married folks do this, I know, I know. Being unmarried doesn’t help avoid such a thing, however. Breakup/divorce – it amounts to the same thing for the kids on an emotional level once they’ve bonded with the adults involved.
If you ask these adults six months later, they almost always have forgotten that not so long ago, both insisted they were a “real” family that didn’t need the legal paperwork because their love for each other was strong and pure. They deserved the wedding of their dreams and hadn't save up enough, yet. Well, the one who was left may still insist that is the way it was. The “leaver” will tell you how miserable they were and how they have a “right” to be happy, don’t they? We weren’t married, afterall!! Amazing how their perspectives change after a breakup.
Of course, the kids involved don’t have the benefit of the nifty-keen new boyfriend or girlfriend to ease their pain. A lot of them are wondering when their “step mom” or "step dad” is going to come back home. The problem is that even legal step parents typically have only iffy and minimal rights to the children. Adults who were just living with the kids’ parent have even less. Chances are, the kids will be out of luck on continuing a relationship with the former informal “step dad” or “step mom” even if that person spent five years raising them. Especially if a “new” love interest is working to get all the chicks in her/his own nest.
I’ve had a few cases where parents brought children into a relationship and the love interest, essentially, raised them. Then, fate intervened and death struck down the parent, leaving his/her child in a situation where the mother/father figure had no right to them in the eyes of the law. Family members who never liked the informal step parent, anyway, emerged from the wood work with claims for the children. Horrible situations, all.
I am starting to wonder if there is room for temporary-type marriages in modern day society. By that, I wonder if we should consider allowing people to marry not “until death do we part,” but for a year or two. The criteria would be similar to common law marriage, i.e., living together continuously, holding themselves out as married, an exclusive relationship, etc. They could get the license extended another couple of years if they make the effort but otherwise, at the end of the legislatively set period, the “marriage” would end as a matter of law.
Sigh. This would probably cause more problems than it would solve but at least if there is a sudden death or other change in circumstances while the couple is still getting along, the kids might have a few more legal protections in place.
Never mind, scrap the whole idea. It just isn’t fair to the kids to encourage them to fall in love with an adult when even the PARTNER is not willing to commit to that person until death parts them.