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Cohabitation: the case for reform Cohabitation: the case for reform

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Mar 23

Cohabitation: the case for reform

Written by Ellie Foster
Legal Director

DDI: 01423 726621
M: 07548 213132
E: ellie.foster@raworths.co.uk

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has recently released an interesting analysis of data extracted from the 2021 Census regarding relationship status.

The key themes from the report include the following:

  • The proportion of adults who have never married or been in a civil partnership has increased every decade from 26.3% in 1991 to 37.9% in 2021
  • the proportion of adults who are married or in a civil partnership (including separated) continued its downwards trend with figures falling from 58.4% in 1991 to 46.9% in 2021
  • the overall proportion of adults who are divorced increased from 6.2% in 1991 to 9.1% in 2021

The biggest increase for those individuals who have never married or formed a civil partnership is in the 25 to 29 age bracket (up from 73.9% in 2011 to 84.2% in 2021), closely following by the 30 to 34 age group (up from 49.2% in 2011 to 58.9% in 2021).

Those adults who have never married will include couples in a cohabiting relationship.  The ONS data supports a government research briefing from November 2022, which reported a 144% increase in cohabiting relationships between 1996 and 2021 from around 1.5 million couples to 3.6 million. This represents 22% of all couples living together, whether married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting and whether same-sex or opposite sex.

Despite the rise in cohabiting relationships, there remains a lack of awareness about the financial implications of cohabitation and the limited (if any) rights each partner has if that relationship ends, in contrast to the statutory regime benefitting those who are married or in a civil partnership.  The myth of the ‘common law spouse’ persists despite there being no such concept under English law.  This can result in unexpected and potentially harsh outcomes, leaving one party in a difficult financial position even though they may have spent years sacrificing their own career, caring for the home and/or looking after children.

The Law Commission published a report in 2014, which included proposals to introduce financial relief for cohabiting couples on separation.  However, despite persistent calls for reform from groups such as Resolution, and the increasing rates of cohabitation, there appears to be a lack of parliamentary appetite to do so, with the government having rejected as recently as November 2022 detailed recommendations from the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee to reform the law.

For more information or to discuss your situation please contact a member of the Raworths family law team on 01423 566 666.

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