Recent statistics in a report Families and Households: 2015 from the Office of National Statistics show that 10% of adults in England and Wales are unmarried but choosing to live with a partner and that cohabiting couple families are the fastest growing family type in the UK, growing 29.7% between 2004 and 2014.
In 2015, 60.5% of the population aged 16 and over (28.4 million) were living as a couple. 50.6% (23.8 million) of the population aged 16 and over were married. However, according to statistics from 2002, 54.8% of the population were then married confirming that there is a steady but noticeable decline in those couples choosing to marry. In addition, the population aged 16 and over who were single increased from 29.6% in 2002 to 34.5% in 2015. These statistics coincide with the increase of people choosing to cohabit (from 6.8% in 2002 to 9.5% in 2015). These statistics show that the choice to cohabit is becoming a more popular alternative to marriage, especially to the younger generation.
The idea that unmarried couples have the same rights as a married couple (who have access to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973) or that they automatically acquire a financial interest in the other’s property because they have lived together, have a right to maintenance, or are so called ‘common law husband or wife’, is in fact a myth. At present, there is no one law that governs the financial circumstances of unmarried couples if they separate.
Instead, disputes between unmarried couples frequently depend on claims of who said what and whether there was any intention behind what was said. Resolving financial issues between cohabiting couples involves using a number of different legal principles including property and trust law and can become extremely complicated.
The lack of support that the law provides for cohabiting couples if they separate makes it important to have a properly drafted living together agreement setting out a couples’ financial circumstances and recording their intentions if they choose to separate. It enables both parties to be fully aware of their situation and, if they chose to separate, they could potentially avoid costly and complicated court proceedings.