The Office for National Statistics has just released census figures for the years 2020, 2021, and 2022 that point to a significant change in marriage trends throughout England and Wales. The modern family unit is apparently evolving fast, and couples’ choices surrounding cohabitation, marriage, and civil partnerships is beginning to clearly reflect this.
Most significantly, these figures demonstrate a drop in marriage rates overall, with a first-time change in the majority now resulting in less than 50% of couples being married or in a civil partnership. An influencing factor here is the evident rise in the popularity of partners living together without officiating their relationship. Statistics now show that this living arrangement has steadily risen from 19.7% in 2012 to 22.7% in 2022, meaning that roughly 6.8million people cohabit while being unmarried within England and Wales.
Legal professionals increasingly note that the common nature of this lifestyle has fuelled many misconceptions surrounding the rights of such partners in the event of their separation. The idea of ‘common law marriage’ is perhaps the most wide-spread erroneous belief held in this respect, which purports that partners are entitled to the same legal protections as married couples if they have been living together for a ‘long enough’ period of time. However, current legislation does not support this assumption at all. In fact, cohabiting partners are only able to make very limited financial claims against their partner in the event of a separation. Despite the ‘common law marriage’ concept, the range of claims available for cohabiting couples, in comparison to married couples, are extremely restricted.
Interestingly, civil partnerships have increased however, with figures doubling from 120,000 in 2012 to 222,000 in 2022 (this includes the introduction of opposite-sex civil partnerships in 2019). Same-sex marriage is also on the rise and statistics now show a dramatic increase in this choice from a mere 26,000 cases in 2015 to a significant 167,000 cases in 2022. From a gender standpoint, 61.2% of these marriages were between male partners, with the remaining 38.8% being between females. However, these figures pale in comparison to the larger 99.3% majority of marriages in England and Wales which are between opposite-sex couples.
These changes in couples’ lifestyle choices have not gone unnoticed by the government, as many have begun to question whether certain legal frameworks surrounding marriage are now becoming antiquated. In particular, there has been some heightened discussion regarding whether new legislation should be implemented to allow for specialised maintenance or financial support claims to be legitimately made by unmarried cohabitating couples who are separating and facing the challenge of having to stand alone financially. This also coincides with the Ministry of Justice having commissioned The Law Commission of England and Wales last year to launch a full-scale review of the now 50-year-old laws which determine how finances are divided among couples after divorce in this country.
Whether you are cohabiting with a partner whom you’ve chosen to separate from or are married and looking to get divorced, we at Grayfords understand how important it is to give our clients the agency they need to be able to make these choices without having to fear dire financial repercussions. We can assist you to make financial arrangements that are equitable and in your best interests as you navigate your separation and can also help you to obtain closure on other important factors such as child custody, protective injunctions, and pensions and wills if necessary. Don’t hesitate to book a free consultation today to speak with one of our solicitors about how we can help.