Marriage rates are down and cohabitation is up; which could be much more important than you might think

Marriage rates are down graphicThe latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that marriage rates continue to fall.

In 2015 there were 239,020 marriages; a record low. Compared with 2005, marriage rates for opposite-sex couples were lower at all ages; except for men aged 65 and over and women aged 55 and over. Civil ceremonies were also down.

The ONS reports “marriage rates for opposite-sex couples are now at their lowest level on record following a gradual long-term decline since the early 1970s.” The number of marriages between opposite-sex couples decreased by 3.4% in 2015, compared with 2014.

The ONS also reports that the average age on marriage is rising. For opposite-sex couples, the average age for men marrying in 2015 was 37.5 years, while for women it was 35.1 years.

Even though marriage rates are down it is not correct to say we have fallen out of love with relationships.

The ONS has released its Families and Households in the UK 2017 report, which covers trends in living arrangements in the UK including families, people living alone and people in shared accommodation; by size and type of household.

The report shows that the second largest family type is the cohabiting couple/family (defined as a couple living together with or without children who are not married or in a civil partnership).

At an ever-increasing 3.3 million families, cohabitation now represents the fastest growing family type, with the number of these families having more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996, to 3.3 million in 2017.

It is a common misconception amongst cohabiting couples that, by living together, they are considered to be their partner’s common law husband or wife and this status will allow them to make financial claims against their partner if the relationship breaks down.

This is not correct. While there are a range of possible financial claims open to former cohabitees on relationship breakdown (notably in relation to children and property) the law in this area is complex.

Below, we debunk three of the most common cohabitation myths:

Cohabitation Myth 1: We will each have 50% of our property, even though it is in my partner’s sole name, as I have made regular contributions to the property.

TRUTH: For the majority of people this is false. For the remaining few, there is no guarantee of a 50/50 split.

In the absence of a deed of trust or document setting out respective shares, the law presumes the property’s beneficial interest is owned by the person who is registered at the Land Registry. Only where one party is able to demonstrate a significant contribution (usually financial), together with evidence of a common intention to hold the beneficial interest between them, might a claim succeed. The fight can be long and arduous and can almost always be avoided by taking clear legal advice at the time of purchase.

Cohabitation Myth 2: I can claim monthly payments from my partner – e.g. maintenance

TRUTH: Put simply, this is incorrect.

Yes, the court has the power to order maintenance for a spouse on divorce but has no such similar power for cohabitees. Child maintenance may be payable where there are children; now enforced by the Child Maintenance Service.

Cohabitation Myth 3: Both parents will have the children for an equal amount of time

TRUTH: Not always.

The best way for separating couples to deal with their children’s arrangements is by way of voluntary agreement. That may include an arrangement for the children to spend an equal amount of time with each parent, but this is not necessarily the ‘norm’. If parents cannot agree, the court may need to make orders to stabilise the children’s arrangements. No two families are the same and there is no one size fits all. What the courts make clear however is that they will put the children’s interests first. Sometimes, if it is believed to be for the best, the court will make no orders at all letting family life unfold.

The message is clear: cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as those who are married. One of the best ways to safeguard against potential problems is for couples to enter into a cohabitation agreement; setting out their living arrangements and what they want to happen in the event they separate.

If you would like further advice about purchasing a jointly owned property, living together as an unmarried couple, cohabitation agreements or you are separating from a cohabiting relationship please contact us by telephone on 01785-223440.