Marriage rates fall below 50%: more calls for cohabitation reform
New ONS statistics have revealed that marriage rates in England and Wales are continuing to fall year-on-year. For the first time since comparable records began, the percentage of people over 16 who are married or in a civil partnership has dropped below 50% to 49.4%.
Solicitor Abi Jones examines what this means and the pressing need for cohabitation reform.
Relationships and the way we view marriage as a nation is constantly changing but sadly our laws are failing to keep pace with modern family structures. Different types of families like blended, cohabitees and single parent families and even platonic co-parenting are over-taking marriage as more popular ways to have relationships and children.
However, same-sex marriages have increased, and it is estimated that the number of people in these marriages in 2022 is around 167,000. This has increased dramatically from 26,000 in 2015 but marriage in general continues to decline in popularity.
It is clear to see that there is an ever-increasing populace of couples who are not getting married or entering into a civil partnership, instead choosing to live together without any of these ‘official’ statuses in place. The ONS figures noted that the increase has reached more than a fifth of over 16s in England and Wales, from 19.7% in 2012 to 22.7% in 2022.
These statistics from ONS have led to more and stronger calls for reform in this area as marriage rates decline but cohabitation continues to be the fastest growing family type in the UK.
Cohabitation reform has long been discussed, and 2019 saw the introduction of a Cohabitation Rights Bill into Parliament that aimed to establish a framework of rights and responsibilities for cohabiting couples. However, this still needs to take the normal course through Parliament and be subject to scrutiny and parliamentary debate before it can be formed into a law and implemented. At the Labour Party Conference 2023, Labour MP Emily Thornberry announced Labour’s commitment to reforming cohabitation laws if they win a general election.
Currently if a couple is cohabiting but not married or in a civil partnership, irrespective of the amount of time that they have been together, there is no entitlement to a share of the other’s wealth upon the relationship breaking down. It does not matter how the finances were arranged within that relationship, nor does it matter how long the parties have been together. The idea of the ‘common law marriage’ is entirely mythical.
The reality is that if a cohabiting couple separate, they will have no claim for financial support or claim to share the other party’s wealth upon the breakdown of that relationship. These couples are often left having very limited rights upon separation and having to potentially wade through more complicated areas of law such as the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act claims.
Until such time that there is a cohabiting rights bill and due to the lack of rights and protections afforded to unmarried couples they should consider getting advice from solicitors and potentially enter into a cohabitation agreement.
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