The old adage about 50% of marriages eventually ending up in divorce isn’t right. It’s actually about 39%, according to many statisticians, and it’s been trending downward for a while. The spike was due in part to the easing of divorce laws and social stigmas, but those things are more permanent now.

That said, don’t assume that the divorce rate is dropping because people stay married more often. That might not actually be the case. The real reason is that many of them just don’t get married at all.

People in older generations often felt compelled to get married. They may have needed it for financial reasons. Living together was not seen as a respectable choice without marriage, much less starting a family.

That is what has really changed. People now live together more often outside of marriage. A young couple that may have gotten married and divorced in previous years now just starts dating and then breaks up. They could be together for years, buy a home, start a family and do everything else that young married couples used to do. But, when they break up, it doesn’t count as a divorce since they weren’t married to start with. The termination of the relationship doesn’t count for statistical purposes, and so it appears that these couples are doing something new and different — when they’re not.

Divorce can get complicated, but unmarried parents may face even more challenges and questions about rights. They need to make sure they know exactly where they stand. This is especially true with children and when they’ve been together for a long time and have intertwined financial lives.