New Statistics From ONS Reveal More Couples Cohabiting Than Ever Before
Family law experts at leading national law firm Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth are warning of the perils of buying into the common law marriage myth following the Office of National Statistics’ 2017 Families and Household survey.
The stats revealed that while the most common type of family in the UK remains the 12.9 million who are married or civil partner couples, the second largest family type is the cohabiting family at 3.3 million families. The ONS also stated the cohabiting family type was the fastest-growing of any family structure, with cohabiting families more than doubling since 1996 from 1.5 million families.
The rate of growth in cohabiting couples reflects how society’s values have are continuing to shift away from traditional marriages and household structures to suit a more flexible arrangement for couples and any children they may have. However, expert family lawyers and Resolution accredited specialists for cohabitation laws at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth are saying that the English and Welsh law fails to protect cohabiting couples in the event of relationship breakdown – despite many couples believing the opposite.
A 2017 study by charity One Plus One found that 47% of British citizens aged 18-34 believe that cohabiting couples have similar rights to married couples by them living together. Across all age groups, 58% of people did not realise common law marriage are not recognised by the courts. The position is different in Scotland, where unmarried couples who live together do have legal rights upon separation.
Expert Opinion“A common misconception amongst cohabiting couples is that by living together they are considered to be their partner’s common law husband or wife, and that this will allow them to make financial claims for themselves against their partner if the relationship breaks down. There needs to be greater awareness of the fact that there is currently no such thing as common law marriage under English law, and that cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples.
“In fact, whilst it is possible for unmarried parents to make financial claims against one another on behalf of their children, there is very little legal protection for them as individuals should they separate, which can create injustice and hardship, especially for the financially weaker partner.
“It is time for England and Wales to catch up and bring the law into line with how an ever increasing number of couples are choosing to live their lives, so that cohabiting families are afforded better legal protection on relationship breakdown.
“While organisations such as Resolution campaign tirelessly for a change to the law in England and Wales this is yet to happen, although the Cohabitation Rights Bill, which addresses the rights of cohabiting couples, is in the early stages of being considered by Parliament. Whether this bill will be given the attention it deserves is yet to be seen as Brexit dominates the proceedings.” Hannah Saxe - Senior Associate Solicitor
Resolution’s Cohabitation Awareness Raising Week takes place on the 27th November – 1st December 2017.