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More unmarried couples split than married ones in 2016

The number of cohabiting couples breaking up has overtaken separation between married couples for the first time, the Marriage Foundation has claimed.

The social campaigners analysed the marriage data released by the Office for National Statistics last month, comparing this to previously gathered data. According to the new ONS figures, parents living together without getting married make up just under 21 per ent of all couples in the UK. Married couples with children, meanwhile, account for 79 per cent.

Existing data suggests that a little over one per cent of married couples with chldren and more than five per cent of cohabiting ones will break up in any given year. On this basis, the Foundation estimates that around 66,500 umarried parents will have gone their separte ways in 2016, compared to approximately 62,500 married parents.

Data suggests that there are now around 1.3 million cohabiting couples, a substantial increase from the 950,000 who were living together 11 years ago. The total number of married couples with children has remained at at relatively steady 4.8 million .

Marriage Foundation research director Harry Benson said the figures reflected the inherently unstable nature of of cohabitation.

“The great paradox of UK family statistics is that family breakdown has been going up for years while divorce has been going down for years. The reason – as repeatedly shown by Marriage Foundation research – is the trend away from relatively stable marriage and toward relatively unstable cohabitation.”

He added:

“Our new finding reveals that we have crossed a watershed. Cohabiting parents, despite being only one fifth of couples, now account for the majority of family breakdown.”

Read the report here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Johnny says:

    It’s pretty obvious — it’s marriage that causes divorce (you can’t have a divorce without marriage) and co-habitation which causes breakdowns (since you can’t have a breakdown — as opposed to a breakup) without being tied to someone in some way.

    There’s a pretty obvious way to avoid either….

    And after reading in this blog over the past several months about all the huge amount of problems that marriage brings, I for one (having been divorced once also) cannot imagine why any sensible man would essay it. It seems to have very few benefits, and carries a huge risk of tremendous costs.

    I mean — what’s the POINT??

  2. Pete says:

    The Marriage Foundation claims: “Family breakdown has risen by 8% in the last decade due to the increase in cohabitation.”

    Oh yeah? Cohabitation does not CAUSE family breakdown. How many of those breakdowns would have become divorces, but for the selection of the “easier option”??

    And at least you can say one thing: It’s cheaper. Certainly if you never elected to have any kids.

  3. Andy says:

    At least they were not married..then split….
    Think of the costs…

  4. Paul says:

    Stable marriage ? – whats that ? – does not compute. Lol
    How many people are staying together because they can’t face devorce ?
    How many couples actively hate each other ? – How many sticking it out for the kids ? – Is marriage uptake still on the decline ?
    Got to be really careful reducing something like this to statistics.

  5. Brian says:

    Unwelcome news for the legal sector. People who don’t marry realise that the only people who benefit from marriage are the lawyers when it all goes wrong. An industry more than content to perpetuate acrimony (regardless of the resolution membership claptrap – the words “my client instructs…” rings in my ears) peddling their clients position in contrast of the law or any sense of fairness – until a judge intervenes applying the law which then complete destroys lives ….see Canadian suicide article for anecdotal evidence to support opinion.

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