New figures on marriages in England and Wales released today show that marriage rates are the lowest since they were first calculated in 1862.
The latest provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that one in six couples in the UK co-habit and do not marry, this is predicted to rise to one in four by 2031.
The family law group Resolution says that the figures highlight an urgent need to give legal rights to couples who live together outside of marriage. Fifty three 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 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".
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.
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?"
Figures released today also indicate that the number of marriage ceremonies which took place in approved premises such as hotels, stately homes and historic buildings increased by 4.4 per cent increase from 2007. Marriages in approved premises accounted for 45 per cent of all marriages in 2008 compared to just 11 per cent in 1998.
For the fourth consecutive year, there were fewer religious ceremonies than ceremonies in approved premises. Religious marriages accounted for a third of all marriages in 2008. The number of religious marriages has decreased by more than a quarter since 1998, while in the same period, the overall number of marriages decreased by 13 per cent.