Lawyer Calls For Changes Following Family Breakdown Research

Co-Habiting Couples 'Need More Protection'

13.12.2010

A top family lawyer at Irwin Mitchell has suggested that legal reforms may be vital in improving protection of co-habiting couples and their children, following the release of new research by the Bristol Community Family Trust.

The report revealed that divorce accounts for 20 per cent of break-ups, while unmarried, co-habiting couples account for 80 per cent of such incidences.

It also estimated that family breakdown costs between £20 to £24 billion a year, adding that family policy failed to address or acknowledge the scale of the problem.

Alison Hawes, a Partner at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office, said that figures have shown that marriage rates in England and Wales are now at their lowest level since records began.

She explained: “These trends are very much in line with the decline in marriage rates over the long term in many other European countries.

“Half of those couples who live together (53 per cent) believe that there is such a thing as a common law marriage where as in fact there is no legal protection for co-habiting couples.  The system fails badly to protect them and is part of the reason for the significant expense when a living together relationship breaks down. 

“Investment in the reform of the law to protect co-habiting couples and the children of those relationships when they breakdown; proper access to specialist legal advice rather than eroding public funding and genuine investment in support and resources for families in trouble are a far more realistic way of cutting the bill to the taxpayer which is the government’s apparent bottom line.”