We are now in peak proposal season, with Christmas Eve continuing to be the most popular day of the year for men to propose and New Year’s Eve not far behind. Ironically, studies show that women prefer not to receive a proposal at Christmas – it is also at peak ‘multi-tasking’ season after all – and those women who plan to pop the question themselves mostly prefer to wait until 14 February (to take advantage of the jewellers’ January sales one assumes).
Yet we are told that marriage is in steep decline, with more of us choosing not to tie the knot at all despite marriage now being an option for more couples than ever since the introduction of same-sex marriage in March 2014. Interestingly a greater proportion of same-sex couples choose to live together without marrying than their opposite-sex counterparts, and so the Office for National Statistics definition of the ‘British family’ includes couples (same or opposite sex) with or without children, and ‘lone’ parents with either dependent or non-dependent children. However, recent figures also show there are currently 18.9m ‘families’ in Britain, of which over two-thirds (12.7 million) are married couples, or those in a civil partnership. Marriage, or civil partnership, is still therefore very much on the agenda for many of us.
If you do get engaged this festive season, the good news for you is that divorce rates are at a 40-year low. Experts suggest this is down not only to fewer people getting married in the first place but also, as a consequence, those relationships which do continue into marriage or civil partnership being more likely to endure. In other words, couples live together for longer before taking the next step, and some relationships simply fizzle out long before marriage is proposed. Either way, given that the average cost of a British wedding – including that sparkler under the Christmas tree – is an eye-watering £25,000, it’s more important than ever to think about giving your marriage every chance of enduring many more Christmases.
Over 15 years practising family law, one recurring theme I have seen is that conflict created by financial difficulties, particularly debt, can seriously undermine even the strongest of marriages. Some parting couples are even still repaying the cost of their wedding when their divorce gets underway, which can be little more than 12 months later. Often the rift is caused by conflicting attitudes to risk or debt management.
There are a number of unfortunate parallels between the cost of a wedding, and the cost of a divorce. For example, the average cost of an engagement ring is just over £550, which unhappily, is also the current cost of the court fee when filing a divorce petition. Add to this the cost of instructing a solicitor to negotiate a financial agreement, which could proves complex because of the assets or personalities involved, , and you could soon be forking out a similar amount to that spent on the wedding in the first place. So getting things off to a good start by agreeing a budget for marking your engagement and wedding is a must.
Either way we will no doubt continue to marry, whatever form our family takes, and this is set to remain an expensive business in 2017 – whether or not you’re in it for the long haul.