Published: 10 November 2015
New figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed that cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK.
In the Families and Households 2015 statistical bulletin, the data highlights that cohabiting couple families account for 17% of all family types in the UK, with 3.2 million cohabiting couple families in the UK in 2015. Over the past decade, the percentage of cohabiting couple families has risen by 29.7%, which makes it the fastest growing family type from 2005 to 2015.
Of the 3.2 million cohabiting couple families in the UK, 3.1 million of them are made up of heterosexual cohabiting couples, which represents an increase from 14% to 17% over the past decade, and 90,000 same-sex cohabiting couples, which represents an increase from 0.3% to 0.5% over the same 10 year period.
Whilst the number of cohabiting couple families continues to increase, there is still a misconception about the 'common law marriage', which some people still falsely believe exists. In the British Social Attitudes Survey of 2008, 51% of people surveyed thought that unmarried couples living together for a period of time qualified for 'common law marriage', giving them the same legal rights as married couples, which is not true.
National family law organisation Resolution have been campaigning for more rights for cohabiting couples and released a Manifesto for Family Law back in February and at the top of their agenda was a reform on cohabitation law, as well as the introduction of 'no fault divorce'.
Jo Edwards, Chair of Resolution said, "In 2007, the Law Commission recommended reforming the laws that apply to cohabitants if they separate. We now have nearly 6 million unmarried people living together, many of who are still under the illusion that they have the same rights as married couples if they separate. I'm sorry to say that, whilst families have changed, or laws have not."
There is currently a Bill which is in the early stages of passing through Parliament called The Cohabitation Rights Bill, which addresses cohabiting couples and their legal rights and to give unmarried couples more protection and similar rights to that of married couples.
Resolution's spokesman on cohabitation law, Graeme Fraser, said, "Under current cohabitation law it's possible to live with someone for decades and even to have children together and then simply walk away without taking responsibility for a former partner when the relationship breaks down. This can have a huge impact on women and children, particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her work to raise a family."
Taking about the latest statistics on cohabiting couple families from the Families and Households 2015 bulletin, he added, "These statistics should be regarded by policymakers as a wake-up call that cohabitation is a trend of modern society that is not going to go away."
"As family lawyers who see the damage caused by the lack of protection for cohabiting couples when they separate, Resolution calls for the urgent introduction of safety net legislation providing legal protection and fair outcomes at the time of a couple's separation, particularly for children and mothers left vulnerable under the existing law. In light of the latest ONS data it will be interesting to see Parliament's reaction to the Cohabitation Rights Bill tabled by Lord Marks, which is currently in its early stages."
If you are currently unmarried and living with your partner and you are concerned about your legal rights then K J Smith Solicitors can help. Our team are experienced in drawing up cohabitation agreements which are designed to help protect you and your family, should the worst happen. For more information or to arrange a free 45 minute consultation with our team, please contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor), 01256 584000 (Basingstoke) or 01483 370100 (Guildford) or email email@example.com.