Cohabitation: is there any point in not getting married?

Cohabitation|Divorce|Family|March 20th 2013

Any family lawyer who has chalked up a few years in the profession will be very aware of one particular social trend of recent decades: the rise of cohabitation, and this is certainly a subject I have written about more than once.

The number of people in the UK cohabiting rather than tying the knot has more than doubled in a decade, according in to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). One in six couples now live together – an enormous leap from the 1960s when the figure was  less than one in 100. Married and unmarried couples are now also equally likely to be parents  – an equal 38 per cent of married and unmarried couples were parents in 2011.

The situation is very similar across the Atlantic: in the United States more than half of mothers under 30 are unmarred, according to research organisation Child Trends.

What is fuelling this seemingly unstoppable aversion to formal marriage? Social changes have been a major factor of course. Since the 1960s, western society has become increasingly less hidebound, less mesmerised by traditional ways of doing things. Once many people got married because there was no other socially acceptable option open to them. Now people feel free to ignore such strictures. For many, marriage is associated with tradition and the establishment – abstract and remote structures that seem to have nothing to do with their private relationships.

Others, I am very sure, feel uneasy about marriage because they spent a chunk of their own childhoods watching their parents divorce – perhaps angrily and unhappily. In other words they come from so-called ‘broken homes’ and so they decide, perhaps unsurprisingly, that they do not want to invite any more of such stress into their lives. It’s definitely more difficult to embark on the uncertainties of married life if you have no positive role model to draw upon.

But as every family lawyer in the land will confirm – at length! – avoiding marriage may seem like a freewheeling choice but it creates many problems. Myths abound about the legal status of cohabitation – as anyone who has seen me discuss the subject on This Morning, there is no such thing, for example, as a ‘common law wife’.

Divorce law in England and  Wales assumes marriage in the division of property and assets. We still provide no legal recognition for people living together and so they have no specific legal rights even if they have been together for decades. Scotland is a little more advanced in this respect: the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 introduced some limited rights for cohabitants north of the border.

In a new and interesting article in the New York Observer, journalist Rose Surnow examines the state of play in the US, reporting on the experiences of young couples for whom cohabiting seemed so natural that they never stopped to question it – only to encounter confusion and uncertainty when their relationships came to an end.

A man who experienced an acrimonious spit with his unmarried partner concludes:

“I understand the value of marriage, because the commitment is on paper and there’s a legal process to getting out of it. When you’re not married, it’s really … There was no process to go through.”

Another reports:

“I come from divorced . My mom has been married three times and my dad is gay, so I just don’t come from marriage, from a family of marriage, where it’s an institution that’s been around, much less venerated.”

Unsurprisingly that particular gentleman wasn’t especially motivated to marry his girlfriend, even when she became pregnant. But by the time  they broke up, 18 months after the birth of their child, his views had changed.

“After going through this whole thing, I actually now think marriage would help, like taking that extra step is empowering for some reason. For me, at this point, I think it would encourage me to work it out and stay together.”

Ay, there’s the rub! As the journalist rightly points out, cohabiting are statistically more likely to split up than their married friends and neighbours – six times more likely if a survey by the Jubilee Centre is anything to go by.

So what, in the end, is the point of not marrying? You are more likely to end up parting from your significant other and more likely to run into serious problems obtaining a fair financial settlement. Perhaps walking down the aisle isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Share This Post...


  1. Lukey says:

    ““I understand the value of marriage, because the commitment is on paper and there’s a legal process to getting out of it. When you’re not married, it’s really … There was no process to go through.””

    I’m sorry to say this Marilyn but it is hard not to see some self-interest for lawyers here:-

    “There was no process to go through”

    – means no big bucks for lawyers in acrimonous battles fighting over the financial settlement of the divorce

    Anybody who is considerably more wealthy than their prospective spouse has to be stark staring bonkers to get married. It is not discussed on the beautiful day but you are effectively putting your entire built-up assets in the hands of the courts, and you will likely get financially screwed as a result.

    What should happen is before a couple move in together they should sit down rationally and discuss financial matters so that everybody knows who gets what if things don’t work out. If a couple are not adult enough to do that then they shouldn’t try and be a couple in the first place.

    Lawyers won’t push that position as a sensible way forwards though – and I wonder why that is 🙂

  2. Dawn says:

    I would advise if any couples have children together they should marry

    I was not married but lived with my ex partner & we have 2 beautiful girls. However I gave up my career to be a stay at home mum (which I do not regret) he left with no valid reason to this day when our girls were 3yrs old (now 18) & 9 weeks old (now 15).
    Nobody ever cared (apart from my parents/close friends? Legally I mean about the worry of being alone night after night with 2 very small & needy children.
    My ex has never fulfilled his father duties he has furthered his career to a level he cleared his half of his mortgage off in court last year. He has always paid through the CSA his maintenance which has helped us survive however he had never helped out, yet financially able to, anything above that legal contribution. He reduced his payments through the CSA after the court ruled a 50/50 split (as we were never married ! We had both paid equal to our mortgage interest only payment always since our split). Very clever reducing his self employed books & yet able to clear his half of his mortgage off in full from his business account. The CSA have no authority to investigate his he was able to clear his half of the mortgage off!!!! He took me to court but as I work no legal aid I had my parents pay a £5k solicitor bill to be told 50/50 as we were not married. I owe that one day from our home when sold. My father also paid for our car again a debt to repay one day as we are needing our own transport where we live. As an example my youngest still at our boundary school cannot get to school without the aid of myself or the school bus as there is no public footpath towards her school & not within walking distance nor normal bus routes. Again my father I’d paying for the newly committed annual bus fare again a debt I am accruing, limited income, maintenance reduced., food utility bills increased so much we now are unable to food shop weekly or as healthy as I would like & my ex aware as he refuses to discuss anything since the split 15 yrs ago August so have to use solicitors & courts for anything yet at court he sat with a barrister & his solicitor (double the
    Cost) rather than put any extra money towards his 2 girls. Yet legally he seen as a good dad. Has paid his CSA money (as he should do I feel wrong ignoring any of their financial responsibility) he also cleverly continued to pay his half mortgage interest payment (again though we had a very cheap mortgage interest payment as bought long ago even I was able to always meet my half payments)!yet he refused to pay the endowment years ago as I could not afford that & his premiums would be treated as one monthly payment with every 2 half payments he made & would show as arrears so they had to be cashed years ago half each but mine cleared my father of the debt etc he left me in (anything in my name my debt I learned legally – we used my credit card when doing up our home so it was legally my debt as we were not married). We had a 19 yr endowment as I owned a property previously & now stupidly added his name to it when we purchased our home all in his favour again).
    We had cash saved from work he done when we were together again he took all the cash. Try proving he didn’t!!
    Personally if I had known we were splitting I would of said lets clear anything we have outstanding then split what left, oh no he took all the cash as he felt he worked for it! I agree but I was at home with his children for those hours he worked raising the girls for long hours alone, cooking his
    Dinner, doing his washing etc! That not count

    So our mortgage was to be repaid in full earlier than a usual 25 year mortgage would be hence we were st court last year.

    Legally he is entitled to his 50% share as soon as our youngest reaches 18 or finishes education .

    I’m not anti him a share of the family home but he moved in with me aged 30 from his parents home, he left & moved back in with his mother (his father died) he has a holiday every Xmas with his mother abroad (my girls only have ever been on hols if my parents paid holidays are a luxury in our household) he refuses to discuss or help towards any holiday my patents find!!! For his children!!!! He can afford but legally does not have to so doesn’t.

    My youngest didn’t ever like being away from me as a child I fact was 17 before comfortably sleeping away from our home. He though took it personally totally has written her off as a daughter!!! She was 3 when he left about 5 when didn’t want to stay at his house fortnightly. It was again agreed in court fortnightly access he though will not have the youngest he does see any more nights than the one every other sst he does. again many dads would love to have their children fri til Sunday or more! My ex does his one night every other sat end of, he makes no contact inbetween to the youngest he does see he does no extra days in holidays incl summer long ones off school & gives no money to her to help out in any of the holidays.

    Anything he has bought the youngest is kept at his/parents house incl Easter egg that may not of been fully eaten!!!!

    Xmas same anything he does is kept at his then he goes away for 2 weeks holiday to Tenerife with his mum annually yet can’t afford his full CSA payment now as his income shows as reduced!!! Lifestyle definitely not.

    My argument is not only the above which I find very unfair in law, no recognition of the non emotional support he gives non recognition of my life been on hold to raise our two girls & non £ compensation to continue putting a roof over their heads after they 18. He a prime example children tend not to leave home 18 now I worry how my girls will ever afford their own houses. Yet he in a huge detached house not financially finding it hard and in less than 3 years he will force the sale of our home as legally he can & entitled to his share.

    Our mortgage was cheap £64500 our house value when he left )135,000 our value now I argue will be under stamp duty price £250k roof etc I feel with full survey will show up but I do not have funds to do structural things needed to house insurance would pay for Amy fallen loose tiles, again me to pay any excess etc our aerial hanging down back of roof to me to pay so it just hangs our fence panels fallen down broken again though down to me in top of paying fit running of the house on small income (gas here is £120pm elec £65pm tv licence, council tax now full as eldest 18 still at college with no job to leave for but list 25% now she 18 also child benefit will stop when college course ends croc will reduce I pay £21pm to cover boiler heating repairs as can’t afford plumber. Ex runs 2 vehicles but nobody cares. I asked him help with eldest driving lessons she now a year behind as I can’t afford nothing given (his answer at door she don’t see me so no) yet I asana fed to get that answer out of him replied you have never tried seeing her being there fri her wht would she want to see you, I hoped maybe if he actually did help maybe just maybe it may help them towards a start of a father daughter relationship but as expected nothing. Lessons are £25ph!! There is provisional to pay for then test theory payment let alone lessons then scar plus car insurance tax etc so although 17 she can drive she now 18 still not driving. In law he doesn’t have to help I know morality he financially able to yet knows his own flesh & blood is held back in life.

    He entitled to his 50% share soon yet the girls will still need a roof over their heads until the day they do leave home & because I gave up my full time job I had pre children now on low income so I able to bring some money in & be there for my girls (who I add never have bought trouble to my door don’t swear or hang around shops or streets do go to school & college but like my youngest who is taking gcse dance has to stay behind at school for hour doing lessons with dance but again unless I pick her up as school bus leaves at 3 her dance class finishes at 4 she would be stuck at school!!! No other transport comes home from her school as said she can’t walk nor her father EVER pick her up so again how would I work 9-5?????

    Whilst trying to explain why a woman should marry if children involved may I add my ex who took me to court when he first left expecting house to just be sold but thankfully law did protect us to stay in our family home by the children’s act I over the years have saved bit by bit and tried to keep our home lean tidy new carpet here there decorated ourselves over the 15yrs here yet could of done nothing wish I had t of decorated as none if that was taken into account. I argued at court I have had to but law mowers over years on top of kids bills running our home alone working also maintained house decorating ourselves keeping gardens huge gardens maintained surely has helped keep value of house. If was ignored by the judge. The argument his solicitor/ barrister gave is he has had to wait some 15 years got his money! My argument where was his 2 children supposed to live!!!! He also was offered a lump sum of 20000 by my father years ago when we were at court he refused so he has chose to wait for his money.

    He had the courts give him quite rightly as his name on birth certificates parental responsibility. It’s all. Waste of time in his case he has NEVER attended any school of his girls nor any evening performance of parents evening yet has a full say In their upbringing yet has never taken an active part.

    I have always said he only ever has an interest in his financial gain not the children ever first in his life. This to me proves all I said yet I. Law as we were not married he gets 50% of our family home. His solicitor even spoke of tenancy rights!!!!! Did make me laugh I have heard about that being used but its his children they are the reason we are living in the family home. Where else we l meant to live????? Where are we going to live????? I find the future scary
    I have been on antidepressants since court Again not the best for my girls!!!

    I can now see why a woman should marry when house & children involved

    What reason would a guy want to marry? In law then in many cases the guy would lose a percentage of his business he would lose some of his pension to wife. Any debt would be joint and house prob 75% to wife with kids

    How I see it my ex is win win win
    Horrid & I don’t feel he has shown how he puts his children first to deserve any of it. We will be homeless I didn’t buy
    a home to then use what equity I will have once dad repaid ex has half to throw into rent for a landlord

    I bought my home for our girls future I personally don’t see a rosy future for them or me & the last 15 yrs has been so hard.

    I can’t buy ex out I would never even get a mortgage to afford to do that especially 50% worth plus my half mortgage & debt accrued with my dad.

    So where in life has sAving our home with the children’s act got us???

    Why does the law not look fully into what involvement these financial gainers not fathers genuine loving fathers actually get involved with their childed

    Why does the law not increase the age of when the absent fathers are entitled to their proceeds from the family home in line with children actually leaving homes

    When is law going to look at how hard it is for 18 year olds definitely being able to even find work as so many people applying for the same jobs nowadays

    I recently lost the will to keep on battling on didn’t see the point in working juggling work with home & kids personally in my circumstance I just don’t see why I have done all I have done for this sad outcome.

    The one thing though that snapped me back into life was my two gawjus girls. Both appreciate what I do for them never give me grief over losing our home I so felt I had let them down

    I don’t know where we will live when youngest is 18 houses ate too expensive around this area to buy or live in it will mean removing them from all they have ever known far away as I don’t feel we will have a choice their dad won’t care I know that he will reap the rewards of waiting for his share of home investing it I’m sure into his mothers £500000k home my girls & I will just have to after all these years pick up move away to an unknown area unknown people but because its so much cheaper then here. Willet ex care I don’t think so. Will he travel miles to see out youngest he does see, I don’t think so.

    It won’t matter to him how his girls are getting on as it hasn’t mattered to him the last 15 years.

    So yes single mums if you fit that make sure you marry the father of your children financially if nothing else to protect yourself & yr children & ESP their financial figure.


    My ex

  3. JamesB says:

    Get married for the divorce settlement, sounds like my ex. How about getting married for love, or is that an old fashioned concept. If it is then so is marriage.

  4. JamesB says:

    If the main reason why someone wants to marry is for the money of a divorce settlement then they should not get married. If I see this behaviour in my children then I will advise them to not get married. Marriage should be what you do when you find that special someone. Not when you want to have kids and screw the man for his money to pay for that.

  5. Caroline H says:

    Those who don’t marry being more likely to split up are likely a self-selecting group. It’s surely sensible to NOT marry someone if you aren’t committed for the long term.

    People should be required to fill in Form E on marriage and file an updated version along with their tax return each year. And along with a tax bill, they would receive a little statement: Should you divorce during this tax year you would likely retain 60% of your pension assets, 80% of your income, 40% of the value of the matrimonial home and the Fleetwood Mac Rumours CD. Please go to our website to toggle the asset split.

Leave a Reply


Newsletter Sign Up

For all the latest news from Stowe Family law
please sign up for instant access today.

Privacy Policy