Marriage rates show urgent need to update law on unmarried couples

11 Feb 2010

New figures on marriage released today highlight the urgent need to give legal rights to couples who live together outside of marriage, family law group Resolution said today.

The latest official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that marriage rates are the lowest since they were first calculated in 1862. One in six couples in the UK co-habit and do not marry according to the ONS and this is predicted to rise to one in four by 2031, but 53 percent of cohabiting couples wrongly believe that they have rights as “common law” spouses.

Resolution’s Vice Chairman David Allison said that the need to bring in legal protection for this growing group of people is overwhelming:

“A smaller percentage of people got married in got married in 2008 than in any year since records began and at the same time the number of couples living together outside of marriage is on the increase. Yet the majority of people don’t understand that living together does not give them any financial protection should the relationship end, which leaves countless people vulnerable to financial hardship if their relationship breaks down”.

Resolution is calling for a new law that would ensure that both members of a couple would be treated fairly should they split up, without equating living together to marriage or civil partnership, and would provide a safety net for vulnerable people who have made career or financial sacrifices for the sake of their relationship.

In 2009 Resolution worked with Lord Lester of Herne Hill who introduced a House of Lords Bill that would have given cohabiting couples legal protection but the Government failed to give the Bill its support. Resolution will continue to press for reform after the General Election.

David Allison continued: “The Government’s lack of action flies in the face of growing popular support for reform. We know that almost nine out of ten people think that a cohabiting partner should have a right to financial provision if their relationship is a long-term one, has involved prioritising one partner’s career or includes children.

“Today’s statistics show clearly that the shape of the modern family has changed almost beyond recognition since the last time family laws were updated. How much more evidence does the Government need before it will act to protect vulnerable children and families?”

Notes to Editors

  • Resolution is a group of over 5500 family lawyers in England and Wales. Established 25 years ago, it promotes a non-confrontational, constructive approach to resolving family disputes. To find out more, visit


For more information please contact:

Teresa Richardson, Resolution Head of Communications: 0203 195 0190

Leonora Merry, Resolution Communications Officer: 0203 195 0191