According to the latest statistics released by ONS, the number of cohabiting couples has risen rapidly in the UK. This has raised concerns about the lack of legal protection for couples if a partner decides they want to separate.
The rise in cohabitation puts pressure on the government to act and provide some kind of safety net for families who don’t enjoy the same protection as married couples. The latter still makes up the majority of families in the UK even though cohabiting couples currently account for 17% overall.
The number of couples cohabiting reached 3.2 million in 2015. This raises a number of issues for a society that has placed great importance on marriage as a means to bond families together.
Unlike married couples, a partner living as part of a cohabiting couple can simply get up and walk away without having to take any responsibility for the welfare of a former partner.
This can have a particularly bad effect on any children the couple may have as one partner can be left struggling to bring up children alone. If the current trend continues, then new laws will need to be introduced to keep pace with how society is developing.
The latest figures provided by the Office of National Statistics show that the overall divorce rates are falling, but that is not the case for one particular demographic. The over-50s, dubbed the “silver separators”, are bucking the trend with an increase in the number of divorces in that age group. Interestingly, as long ago as September 2013, we wrote a blog about this very subject and the latest figures show that the trend is continuing.
With grown-up children having left home and retirement looming, “empty nest syndrome” can lead to people realising that they simply no longer enjoy spending time with their spouse. Without the distractions of work and children, it can become apparent that they no longer have any shared interests and want different things in life. Increased life expectancy means that many people are now enjoying 20-30 years of retirement and are putting their own needs first rather than remaining in unhappy marriages. There is far less of a stigma surrounding divorce and this may encourage people who were previously reluctant to do so to take the plunge and move on with their lives. Media reports also suggest that the rise in the silver divorce may be because women are becoming increasingly financially independent, with their own income and pensions.
The latest figures released by the Office of National Statistics in their Household and Families Bulletin show that cohabitation remains the fastest growing relationship type. Whilst married couple families remain the most common family type, there are now 3.2 million cohabiting couple families in the UK, an increase of almost 30% in the last decade. Opposite sex cohabiting couple families now account for 17% of all families in the UK, described by the ONS as a statistically significant increase from 14% in 2005. Same sex cohabiting couples have also experienced an increase from 0.3% to 0.5% of all families.
Unfortunately, the majority of people who live together do not realise that cohabitation does not provide them with the same rights as married couples, however long they may have lived together. In a survey carried out by British Social Attitudes, 51% of respondents thought that unmarried couples who live together for some time probably or definitely had a “common law marriage” which gave them the same legal rights as married couples, but this is not the case. There is no such thing as common law marriage in England and Wales.
The rise in cohabitation together with the falling rate of marriage shows that cohabitation is here to stay and the law needs to reflect that. Resolution, the association of family lawyers, released a manifesto earlier this year calling on the Government to reform cohabitation law, amongst other things. There is currently a Cohabitation Rights Bill before Parliament but it is in its very early stages. It remains to be seen how the Government reacts to these latest figures and whether it takes any action to modernise the law.
Currently, if cohabitees want to protect themselves, they should seek advice on drawing up a Cohabitation Agreement setting out who owns what and how any assets are to be divided in the event of relationship breakdown.
The BBC news website recently reported that despite divorce rates falling among the UK population as a whole, the over 60s actually saw an increase. Does this mean the end of ‘till death us do part’?
On the face of it, it certainly looks that way. It used to be the case that people over 60 were either lacked the energy to go through a divorce or it was too expensive to consider, however now that people are living longer healthier lives, many are considering later life without their husband or wife.
According to the ONS, the rising divorce trend in the over 60s has been happening since the 1990s, which indicates a clear trend towards it being more acceptable to divorce for this section of the population. It may also be easier for financially independent women to contemplate divorce than it has been in the past.
The number of married men over 60 divorcing in 1991 was 1.6 per 1,000 and this had nearly doubled to 2.3 by 2011. The figure for women was still comparatively lower at 1.6 per 1,000 in 2011, rising from 1.2 per 1,000 in 1991.
The overall number of divorces in the UK peaked in 1993 at 165,000, yet since then the number of divorces has fallen steadily. In 2011, there were a total of 118,000 divorces, of which 9,500 involved men aged 60 plus.
Categories: Divorce Law