According to the Pew Research Center, the number of people over the age of 50 who live with their partner, to whom they are not married to, is skyrocketing. The rate of "gray cohabitation" grew by an astounding 75 percent between 2007 and 2016. That's a rise from 2.3 million to 4 million over the course of a decade among those over 50. The number of cohabitaters over age 65 doubled over the same period.
The New York Times explored the phenomenon in a recent article, and what they found surprised some people. Cohabitation has been thought of as a young person's decision and also thought to be a less stable relationship than marriage. What the Times found was that cohabitation can be a reasonable choice for older people if they're careful, and that it can signal just as much of a commitment as marriage.
The trend may have something to do with the increase in so-called "gray divorce" over the past few decades. According to the Times, divorce among those 50 and older has doubled since the 1990s. That leaves a large number of people without partners, and those people have already experienced divorce.
Avoiding another divorce does seem to be a motivator for some people, according to the Times' profiles of some people involved in cohabitation at advanced ages.
"Getting divorced gives you so much to untangle," said one woman who had been divorced twice after a total of 38 years married.
It's important to remember that any committed relationship could leave you with financial and property issues to untangle. If you're considering cohabitation, you should give serious thought to having a cohabitation agreement drafted.
One couple mentioned they had had powers of attorney and healthcare proxies drafted for each other so that their cohabitation partner could manage those decisions in an emergency.
That's important because, without the appropriate documents on file, state laws may not allow cohabitating partners to make end-of-life decisions. A well-drafted estate plan is also necessary if you want to pass property to a cohabitating partner.
There are a number of other important issues to consider. For example, will a committed cohabitation trigger the end of an existing alimony order? Remarriage almost certainly will. Marriage can also affect pensions and government benefits like Social Security, whereas cohabitation may not. Marriage combines the couple's assets, so it could be harder to qualify for Medicaid, too. It's not clear that cohabitation will have that effect.
Considering the economic advantages of pooled resources, however, each member of the cohabitating couple may be better off financially than they would be on their own. They might be better off emotionally, too.