2011 Census figures highlight risks to cohabiting couples

News Release

14 Dec 2012

New figures from the UK Census have revealed that more and more couples are living together without being married. These figures once again highlight the urgent need to give legal rights to millions of couples in England and Wales.

The recent data, published by the Office for National Statistics, shows that households containing one cohabiting couple jumped by half a million in ten years from 1.8 million in 2001, to 2.3 million in 2011 – a rise of nearly 30%.

And yet, despite this growing social trend, the current laws do not offer these couples the same protection as married couples upon separation.

Resolution, which represents 6,500 family law professionals in England and Wales, today repeated their call for changes to the law so that unmarried couples do not suffer unnecessarily should they separate.

Earlier this year, Baroness Hale, spoke of the disparity between Scottish and English law on cohabitation, in a Supreme Court ruling on Gow v Grant. She highlighted the protection offered to cohabiting couples north of the border, stating “English and Welsh cohabitants and children deserve no less.”

Steve Kirwan, Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation Committee said:

“The current situation for people who live together in England and Wales, more often than not, creates injustice and hardship. Regardless of your views on marriage, our current law fails to reflect the way people are choosing to live their lives. Sadly, children, who were not party to their parents’decision not to marry, can often be affected.

“Despite the “common law” marriage myth, it is possible to live together with someone for decades and even to have children together, and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner’s welfare. That is simply wrong.”

Resolution is calling for new laws in England and Wales, for couples who have lived together for five years or more –or for less time in cases of exceptional hardship. For cohabiting couples with children, the law would offer protection regardless of how long they have lived together.

These couples would have an automatic right to apply for certain financial orders if they separate. If a couple wished to opt out of this provision, they could do so by way of a written agreement. Such a law would prevent injustice by allowing the courts to recognise a cohabiting relationship and decide on an outcome that is fair and reasonable.

Mr Kirwan added:

“The Scottish legislation has now been in place for several years. The lessons from research are available. And now, with this week’s figures showing a marked rise in cohabitants, we urge the government to revisit this matter, so that couples in England and Wales can receive similar legal protection to their counterparts north of the border.”

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Notes to editors

For more information please contact:

Matt Bryant

Director of Communications

0203 195 0190

Victoria Sutton

Communications Manager

0203 195 0191