The Changing Marriage “Market”—and What It Means for Your Divorce Practice

The Changing Marriage “Market”—and What It Means for Your Divorce Practice

Last Updated: February 9, 2024

One of the ongoing jokes in the online world is the “Millennials are killing” meme. Young adults have been blamed for the decline of just about everything: shopping malls, golf, breakfast cereal.

There’s something else young people these days are being blamed for—the decline in divorce.

If your law firm has a robust divorce practice, you might not find that very funny. Regardless, your business could be facing some big changes.

Maybe you’ve already seen evidence of this. In any case, the data is incontrovertible:

People are marrying later in life in the United States

An increasing percentage of the U.S. population isn’t getting married

And yes, analysts believe that millennials are the main drivers of these trends. “Millennials” are generally defined as being people in their 20’s and early 30’s, although the demographic has a somewhat blurry division between them and their neighboring generations. In any case, why might this group be responsible for this changing market?

There are many theories. The Great Recession has been blamed for a lot of things including making it harder for younger generations to get their careers started. And that has made them less likely to get married, at least while in their 20s and early 30s. In addition to slow career progress, student debt and their associated payments has made paying for a wedding – even with help from Mom and Dad – a daunting prospect for many young Americans.

Another school of thought holds that these young people have seen their parents divorce. And they don’t want to risk that happening to them by getting married themselves.

Whatever the reasons, these trends point to an incontrovertible fact: The U.S. divorce rate has been, overall, steadily declining in the 21st century. The data backs up that conclusion:

Understanding the Latest U.S. Trends in Marriage and Living Arrangements

The landscape of marriage and living arrangements in the United States has seen significant shifts over the past decade, as evidenced by the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual America’s Families and Living Arrangements table package. These changes have profound implications for family law practices, especially those specializing in divorce. Here’s a closer look at the key statistics and their potential impact:

Decrease in Adults Living with a Spouse: The percentage of adults living with a spouse decreased from 52% to 50% over the past decade. This decline, though seemingly small, indicates a broader trend away from traditional marriage, potentially leading to fewer divorce cases as fewer people opt for marriage in the first place.

Increase in Single-Person Households and Unmarried Partnerships: There’s been a slight increase in adults living alone, from 14% to 15%, and a rise in the percentage of adults living with an unmarried partner from 7% to 8%. These figures suggest a shift towards more non-traditional living arrangements, which may require legal services related to cohabitation agreements, property rights, and other non-marital partnership concerns.

Changing Family Structures: The number of families living with their own children under age 18 has declined over the last two decades. In 2021, 40% of all U.S. families lived with their children, compared to 44% in 2011. This change in family structures could influence the nature of custody and child support cases, with potentially fewer disputes arising from divorce proceedings.

Rising Age at First Marriage: The median age for first marriages has risen to 30.4 for men and 28.6 for women, up significantly from the mid-20th century. Older couples may have more complex financial assets, leading to potentially more complicated divorce settlements or prenuptial agreements.

Living Arrangements by Age and Sex: The data shows varied living arrangements by age and sex, with more than half (58%) of adults ages 18 to 24 living in their parental home. This extended time spent in the parental home could delay marriage and divorce decisions, affecting the demographic makeup of clients seeking divorce services.

These statistics paint a picture of an evolving marriage market, where traditional marriage rates are declining, and alternative living arrangements are becoming more common. For divorce practices, these trends highlight the need to adapt services and marketing strategies to address the changing needs of the population. Whether it’s offering legal services for cohabitating couples, understanding the complexities of divorces later in life, or navigating custody in less traditional family structures, staying informed about these trends is crucial for law firms looking to thrive in the changing landscape of family law.

These trends aren’t consistent across every city and every state. Your mileage may vary, so to speak. And if your firm has built a reputation as the best divorce practice in your area, you might not even see much of a falling-off in business. People are still getting divorced, after all. When this happens, they still need a firm they can trust. They’ll still look for a firm with demonstrated expertise at providing quality service (and probably comfort) to numerous clients.

Still, these trend lines suggest that the need for divorce attorneys may decline in the coming years. And that means your firm needs to be prepared for new possibilities.

Our plan in the next two posts on this topic is to help you do just that. Here’s what we’ll examine:

  • What do these changes in the marriage and divorce rates mean for my law firm? How should I market my legal services in this changing marketplace?
  • What are the emerging opportunities in the “marriage market”?

Millennials aren’t likely to actually kill off divorce—or marriage, for that matter. But it looks like their generation is bringing some new things to life.

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