Money woes can unravel marriages in the early 20s 

Money woes can unravel marriages in the early 20s 

One couple were quarrelling every other day, but did not reconsider their engagement, having borrowed heavily from relatives to finance a new house.

Another couple could not afford to put food on the table, yet had one child after another.

A third had a six-month whirlwind romance that crumbled within six months as the wife wanted to control the purse strings.

These three couples had two things in common: they got married in their early 20s and have since split up.

A recent study by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) found that those who marry young face greater risk of divorce.

The divorce rate for grooms who are aged 20 to 24 when they wed is twice that for those 25 and above, it found. This is similar for Muslim marriages.

These trends were seen in younger grooms instead of younger brides as the age of the men tends to reflect early marriages where the brides are also young, counsellors said.

"These younger couples usually ignore the alarm bells in the rosy stages of love and later find that they lack the resources to deal with the real work of marriage," said family lawyer Abdul Rahman.

A third of the divorce cases he handles come from this age group.

Counsellors and divorce lawyers said such marriages are more vulnerable as the couples tend to be less financially stable and emotionally mature.

"At that age, (their) income is low as they may be still schooling or have just started work," said Ms Theresa Bung, principal therapist at the non-profit Family Life Society.

"Yet financial commitments are high if they are paying off their study and wedding loans, getting a house or rearing a child."

Young couples may also lack the emotional tenacity.

"This phase is full of adjustments - living with each other or in-laws, entering the workforce and being responsible for a child - and it can be overwhelming if you are still grappling with forming your own identity as a young person," said Ms Elysia Tan, counsellor at Touch Family Services.

Divorce lawyer Tan Siew Kim said many young people marry because of unplanned pregnancies and these marriages tend to fail.

"They bail out when things get hard because they didn't get married for love," she said.

Given these trends, MSF will launch an extended marriage preparation programme next month that will last 12 hours.

Mrs Shelen Ang from Focus on the Family said such programmes are especially useful for young couples.

"The courses can help couples think through issues they would not otherwise talk about or enable them to identify if they have distinct life goals," she said.

The new programme is optional but MSF has mandatory marriage preparation programmes for minors, such as couples aged below 21.

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar proposed extending the age requirements for these programmes to those below 25.

Others said support is needed especially in the first few years after marriage because that is when things usually turn sour.

Said Ms Monica Fernando, a marriage counsellor at Reach Counselling: "The first two years of a marriage is the 'danger zone' when couples face the greatest threat of divorce and so young people may need extra support in not only preparing for marriage but also maintaining it."

jantai@sph.com.sg

miranday@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 9, 2015.
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