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Edward Bennett
Edward Bennett
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Official statistics show rise in couples living together outside marriage
Date:24 JUN 2014
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Journals Manager + Online Editor

Cohabitation figures ‘show need for law reform’

The Office for National Statistics has analysed the 2001 and 2011 Census data finding an increase in cohabitating couples from 14% to 17% of households in the UK. In comparison the number of households with married couples fell from 70% to 65%.

The report, 2011 Census Analysis: How do Living Arrangements, Family Type and Family Size Vary in England and Wales?, summarises the distribution of family types (married couples, cohabiting couples and lone parents with/without dependent children) within England and Wales and the interaction with family size (number of dependent children). Variations in family size and type by country of birth are also highlighted.

Key points of the report include:

  • Of the 15.8 million families living in households in England and Wales, 92% (14.4 million) were living in one family households.
  • The proportion of families that were married couples (both with and without dependent children) declined from 70% in 2001 to 65% in 2011; cohabiting couples and lone parent families increased over the same period.
  • The majority (85%) of families in England and Wales had a UK-born family reference person (FRP).
  • Just over one third of non-UK born FRPs were born in the Middle East and Asia (36%), with the two largest countries of birth (India and Pakistan) accounting for more than half (52%) from this region.
  • Lone parent families accounted for 18% of all families in England and Wales; the proportion was highest for families with a Somali-born FRP (60%).
  • Families including three or more dependent children accounted for 7.0% of all families in England and Wales; families with a Somali-born FRP had the highest proportion (47%).
  • 11% of couple families with dependent children in England and Wales were stepfamilies; one in five (21%) couple families including dependent children with a Jamaican-born FRP were stepfamilies. This was the highest level of any non-UK born FRP group.

Alison Hawes, an expert family and divorce lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said:

'All the statistics on how people are living their lives show that the world has changed remarkably over the past couple of decades.

It is unsurprising to see yet another study highlight that the number of people choosing to live together without marrying is on the increase in the UK. Such trends simply demonstrate how times have changed and in the 21st century many people do not feel the need to enter into either a civil partnership or marriage.

However, the issue is that legislation in this area has not moved with the times and this means couples who live together have very few rights in law in the event of relationship breakdown. There is no such thing as a common law wife or husband – that is a myth. The only way for couples to protect themselves and their assets in the event of a split is to prepare a cohabitation agreement or property ownership document with advice from legal specialists from the outset.

It is very similar to a pre-nuptial agreement, and enables both parties to ensure they state clearly how their assets should be divided in the event that their relationship does sadly come to an end.'

The first reading of a proposed Cohabitation Rights Bill took place in October last year then again in June this year to signal the start of the Bill's journey through the House of Lords, however a second reading to debate all aspects of the Bill is yet to be scheduled.

The full report is available to download here.