Baby Before Marriage: Will It Work?

Getty ImagesIf you woke up today, you know that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West got engaged on Monday night, Kardashian’s 33rd birthday. West proposed in front of family and friends at the AT&T Park in San Francisco with the stadium screen projecting, “Please marry me,” according to E! News.

The couple is only the latest in a string of celeb duos to get engaged or hitched after the birth of their first child (and sometimes, their second): Matthew McConaughey and Camila Alves tied the knot in June 2012, after Alves gave birth to son Levi, now 5, and Vida, now 3; Nicole Ritchie and Joel Madden exchanged vows after becoming parents to daughter Harlow, now 5, and son Sparrow, who turned 4 last month; Victoria and David Beckham wed when their 14-year-old son Brooklyn was four months old. Meanwhile, Jessica Simpson, who, in June gave birth to her second child with former NFL player Eric Johnson (they welcomed their first daughter in May of 2012), are still engaged.

Despite the link between marital strife and parenting — according to data compiled by the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle, two-thirds of couples say they have little time for adult conversation and sex within three years following the birth of a child — more and more couples are forgoing newlywed bliss for late nights and dirty diapers. Recent data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found that 23 percent of the country's reported births were to unmarried, cohabiting heterosexual couples, up from 14 percent in 2002.

While the CDC didn’t speculate on the reasons for the rise, we could look to Hollywood. Witnessing unmarried celebrity couples or single mothers navigate parenthood without the constraints of commitment, may normalize the issue (however, they have money and resources to juggle both school plays and lavish date nights). Another reason: These days, couples are becoming less enthused about marriage overall (currently, barely half of U.S. adults are married), so the rush of waving around a positive pregnancy stick may trump an engagement ring. And finally, the notion of family is evolving — according to a recent study, 83 percent of people say an unmarried, cohabiting couple with children counts as a “family." But is this modern-day arrangement good for couples and kids?

“Marriage could be a smart, grounding choice for Kim and Kanye who both lead hectic, unpredictable, public lifestyles, but real couples should think twice before having a baby before marriage,” says Laurie Puhn, New York City-based couples mediator and author of Fight Less, Love More.

Couples who do so often overlook critical questions that factor into the decision to marry, says Puhn. Things such as, ‘How does he resolve conflict?’ ‘What are our parenting philosophies?’ ‘Does this person support me?’ and ‘Do we have compatible views on monogamy?’ just to name a few. “Being a parent is a higher standard to hold someone to than a spouse,” she says. "It's better to experience what you’re like as a true team, before bestowing this lifelong responsibility upon each other," she says.

What’s more, the cost of breaking up is higher. “The unmarried parents can move in and out of each other's lives without the burden of divorce,” says Puhn. “The kid is not so lucky, because he pays heavily for their easy escape — kids with married parents fare better emotionally and academically." 

And the when couples move on, they're often inflicted with a dating double standard: Single fathers are deemed noble catches, having proved their commitment to fatherhood while single mothers can be viewed as having baggage. “There’s also a logistical challenge for mothers of small children, who often have no time to date because parenting is exhausting and more often than not, women bare the brunt of child rearing."

Then, there are those lingering questions that can nag at a couple that only tied the knot because they got pregnant. “If the union is meant to be, why not get married in the first place?" says Puhn.