New cohabitation stats reveal the need for the law to catch up with society

05 Nov 2015

New data from the Office for National Statistics confirming that unmarried couples living together are the fastest growing family type in the UK is further proof that the law on cohabitation needs to catch up with modern British society, says family law organisation Resolution.

Cohabiting couples currently have little legal protection when they separate. Lawyer Graeme Fraser, Resolution’s spokesman on cohabitation law, explains:

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 any 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.”

According to the ONS Families and Households survey, released 5 November 2015, there are now 3.1 million opposite sex cohabiting couple families, which has increased from 14% of all families in 2005 to 17% in 2015. 41% of all opposite sex cohabiting couple families have dependent children in the household, this figure having increased as a result of the average age at first marriage being higher (30.3 years) than the average age of women at the birth of their first child (28.3 years). Same sex cohabiting couple families have also increased to 90,000 in 2015.

Graeme Fraser comments:

"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.”

He continues: “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.”

Earlier this year Resolution released its Manifesto for Family Law calling for the introduction of some rights for cohabiting couples when they separate. Research in 2013 from relationships charity One Plus One shows that almost half (47%) of the British public believe in the myth of “common law marriage”, the notion that cohabiting couples have similar legal rights to married people.