Today’s statistics, showing cohabiting couples represent nearly 10% of the population, are further proof that the law on cohabitation needs to catch up with modern British society, says family law organisation Resolution.
Cohabiting couples currently have little legal protection when they separate. Lawyer Graeme Fraser, Resolution’s spokesman on cohabitation law, explains:
“Under current cohabitation law it’s possible to live with someone for decades and even to have children together and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner when the relationship breaks down. This can have a huge impact on women and children, particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her work to raise a family.”
According to the ONS, people who were “cohabiting: never married or civil partnered” represented 6.8% of the population in 2002. This had increased to to 9.5% by 2015. The ONS say this may be explained by an increasing trend to cohabit instead of marry, or to cohabit before marriage, particularly at younger ages. According to Families and Households: 2015, cohabiting couple families are the fastest growing family type in the UK (2004 to 2015).
Graeme Fraser comments:
"These statistics should be regarded by policymakers as a wake-up call that cohabitation is a trend of modern society that is not going to go away. As family lawyers who see the damage caused by the lack of protection for cohabiting couples when they separate, Resolution calls for the urgent introduction of safety net legislation providing legal protection and fair outcomes at the time of a couple's separation, particularly for children and mothers left vulnerable under the existing law.
He continues: “In light of the latest ONS data, reform of the law for cohabiting couples should be one of the top priorities for whoever the new Prime Minister appoints as Justice Secretary.”
Last year Resolution released its Manifesto for Family Law calling for the introduction of some rights for cohabiting couples when they separate. Research in 2013 from relationships charity One Plus One shows that almost half (47%) of the British public believe in the myth of “common law marriage”, the notion that cohabiting couples have similar legal rights to married people.