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Saying 'I do' #x2026;; for a while

By Marlon Manuel

Cox News Service

ATLANTA -- Rhonda Hale sees the starry-eyed dream reflected in the mirrors of her Marietta, Ga., wedding dress shop.

For so many 20somethings, the dress is the thing. And the ceremony. But the perfect marriage? That's optional.

If it doesn't work out, young couples divorce quickly and try again.

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Hale gets enough repeat customers at the Wedding Knot that she accepts the recently resurrected term "starter marriage" -- a disposable union that ends by age 30 -- as valid, if cliched.

"Women are more in love with the idea of getting married than they are with the man they're marrying," said Hale, 36, who married at 19 and divorced seven years later.

Pamela Paul, 30, an associate editor at American Demographics magazine, chronicles such unions and breakups in her book "The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony."

Married at 27 and divorced in a year, Paul watched friends go through the same thing and wondered what was going on.

"We're getting married, screwing it up and divorcing -- a practice that certainly isn't strengthening our sense of trust, family or commitment," she said.

Paul has recently been on the talk-show circuit and in People magazine talking about her findings.

While marrying young has long been associated with a higher risk of divorce, "Paul's 'starter marriage' idea is not something we have observed at the national level," said Rose M. Kreider, a researcher with the U.S. Census Bureau. Kreider's recently published analysis included sampling from 37,000 households and 69,571 respondents.

A U.S. census report released in February -- which relies on data from 1996, the most recent year when such comprehensive marriage information was collected -- showed that:

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Most adults have married only once.

In 1996, the majority of adults age 25 to 29 who were married only once were still in their first marriage.

Marriages at more risk were those among teen-agers.

Brigham Young University sociologist Tim B. Heaton analyzed marriage and divorce statistics gathered from a 1995 national survey of family growth done by the National Center for Health Statistics, a branch of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He concluded that the probability of a disrupted marriage for females 15 to 17 years old was 6 percent a year, nearly triple the rate for women 23 or older.

Paul, who interviewed 60 couples from across the country, admits that the book isn't representative on a statistical level. "That wasn't the purpose," she said. "The stories that I heard had a commonality, which is really what I was looking for."

Paul said the people she interviewed, from more than 30 states, came to her through word of mouth after she told friends to "tell every single person you know" what she was doing.

The phenomenon, whether statistically significant or not, has been observed before. In the 1960s, anthropologist Margaret Mead suggested that brief, childless marriages should be known as "trial marriages." The term "starter marriage" made the rounds with family researchers in 1994.

Arline Kerman, a divorce and custody lawyer for 25 years, has seen premature marriages throughout her career.

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"We have disposable relationships," Kerman said. "You use it for the benefits you derive. When you don't derive any true benefits or the next relationship gives you a better amount of pleasure, you end it. You say, 'OK, I'm through.'"

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