Figures Recently Released by the ONS highlight the need for Legal Reform

Published: 8th March 2018

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently released a report on marriages within England and Wales in 2015, looking at the overall number of marriages by sex, age, previous marriages and whether the marriage involved a religious or civil ceremony.

The report suggests that the number of opposite-sex couples who are married is currently at a record low, however the number of marriages involving older couples (men aged over 65 and woman aged over 55) has increased. This report has led industry experts to discuss what the future may hold for family law in the UK following these findings, and many believe that legal reform is the answer.

Marriage in England and Wales: The Statistics

Various family law organisations and professionals believe that the statistics detailed in the report indicate a need for the formal recognition of pre-nuptial agreements and better legal protection for cohabitants. The notable findings of the report include:

  • Marriage rates for opposite sex couples were at a record low in 2015, with 19.8 marriages per thousand unmarried women and 21.7 marriages per thousand unmarried men.
  • 2015 saw a decrease of 3.4% inopposite sex marriages, with 239,020 compared to 247,372 in 2014.
  • Civil ceremonies and religious ceremonies for opposite sex couples decreased by 1.6% and 8% when compared to 2015 to 2014 respectively.
  • 6,493 same sex couples married in 2015, of which 56% were female couples.
  • 9,156 civil partnerships converted into marriages in 2015.

What do the experts say?

Many legal and industry experts across the UK are having their say on the matter, suggesting what the results may mean and how the sector may react. Nicola Haines, of the ONS Vital Statistics Outputs Branch, said: 'Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples are now at their lowest level on record following a gradual long-term decline since the early 1970s. The number of marriages between opposite-sex couples decreased by 3.4% in 2015, compared with 2014. Despite this overall decline, marriages at older ages rose; the number of weddings increased for men aged 50 and over and women aged 35 to 39 years and 45 and over. This is the first full year for which marriages were available for same-sex couples and they accounted for 2.6% of all marriages.'

Former Chair of family law organisation Resolution, Jo Edwards, said: ‘There are various things that policy makers should take from these statistics:

First, the need for reform of the law for cohabiting couples, so that they have clearer rights at the end of their relationship, whether through separation or the death of one of the parties. The Law Commission advocated reform in this area as long ago as 2007. We are sitting on a ticking time bomb as people sleepwalk their way into cohabiting relationships, without realising that there is no such thing as common law marriage and that they may be severely disadvantaged at the end of the relationship.

Second, the need for a formal footing in law for pre-nuptial agreements. One of the reasons for the phenomenon of “silver splicers” is that around 1 in 3 marriages are second marriages as people are living longer, and in turn people feel more readily able to enter into marriage later in life knowing that nuptial agreements are being respected ever more by English courts. But ideally, as the Law Commission proposed in 2014, they should be given a statutory footing so that there is greater clarity in this area.

It would also be informative if Government were to look again at the way in which marriages are formalised. In late 2015 the Law Commission looked at this area and concluded that the law does not allow people to marry in in a way which meets their needs and wishes and is therefore meaningful for them. The Government responded late last year to say that it has no plans to reform this area of the law. Given societal changes, and the fact that marriage is widely regarded as the most stable relationship within which to raise children, a modern society requires a modern approach towards marriage.'

The Future - Time for Reform?

It is clear that many industry experts agree that the results of this report show the importance of a UK family law reform, particularly where cohabiting couples and pre-nuptial agreements are concerned.

It is widely thought that cohabiting couples should have better rights when their relationship comes to an end, especially as cohabiting relationships are on the rise and many people believe that common law marriage will protect them. This is categorically not the case, and it could mean additional suffering at the end of a relationship. Experts are also calling for more legal recognition and standing for pre-nuptial agreements, to help people enter into a marriage that more suitably reflects their interests and has a more stable environment for everybody involved.

If you are thinking of separation or divorce then K J Smith Solicitors can help. Our team of family law specialists can advise on all aspects of family law, ranging from the straightforward to the highly complex.

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