Payne Hicks Beach
Payne Hicks Beach

26 May 2022

Declining rates of marriage

The Office for National Statistics ("ONS") have released their latest data on marriages in England and Wales.  The most recent statistics relate to the 2019 calendar year [1].

During 2019, 213,122 opposite-sex couple marriages took place.  This represents a decrease of 6.5% from 2018.  This is the lowest rate of opposite-sex marriages since 1862 and a fall of 50% since 1972.

In relation to same-sex couples, 6,728 marriages took place, a decrease of 2.8% from the previous year.

So why are fewer people choosing to marry? 

It is likely that people are choosing to marry at a later age.  There are also far more people living together without marrying at all. The ONS said that "while "married" remained the most common marital status, accounting for just over half the population in 2019, this proportion is steadily declining except among those aged 70 years and over."

The statistics relating to 2020 will not be available until 2023 and therefore it is not yet possible to assess the impact of the pandemic on marriage rates.

Does it matter?

Marriage and cohabitation do not carry the same weight in the event of a separation.  In England, there is no such thing as a "common law marriage"; despite many people erroneously believing that living together confers upon them some form of entitlement to financial relief in the event that the relationship sours.  Those who choose not to formalise their relationship by way of a marriage or civil partnership can often be shocked when confronted with the reality that they have no entitlement to make a claim for financial provision, unlike their married contemporaries.  There is no specific law that deals with the rights of cohabitants and instead they must rely on the usual principles of property and contract law.  Many people are taken aback to learn they have no right to share in the value of assets acquired in the name of their partner during the course of the relationship or to request ongoing financial support by way of maintenance, even in the case of relationships lasting decades.  This applies even if one party has been out of the workplace raising children.  Whilst that individual would have no claims in their own right, they may be able to make claims on behalf of the children of the relationship under Schedule 1 and section 15 of the Children Act 1989. 

It is important that people who choose to live together without marrying ensure that they are fully informed about the legal ramifications in the event that they separate.  It is possible for such a couple to enter into a cohabitation agreement setting out the manner in which their financial affairs should be governed both during the relationship and upon it ending.  A cohabitation agreement can deal with ownership of any properties (and in what proportions), how household bills will be divided, life insurance, pensions, chattels etc.  It can even deal with the ownership of pets.

A cohabitation agreement can be an invaluable tool for couples who choose not to marry and can provide certainty and security for what will happen in the event of a separation.  Provided that a cohabitation agreement is properly prepared with each party receiving independent legal advice and it is executed as a deed then a cohabitation agreement will be legally binding and capable of being enforced through the courts.  Anyone contemplating living together without marrying should seek advice upon whether a cohabitation agreement should be entered into.  Importantly, however, such an arrangement can only be put in place by agreement.  No consensus, no cohabitation agreement and, as the law currently stands, no legal safety net.

 If you require any family advice please do not hesitate to contact Kelly Gerrard of the Family Department.

#1[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/marriagecohabitationandcivilpartnerships/bulletins/marriagesinenglandandwalesprovisional/2019

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This publication is not intended to provide a comprehensive statement of the law and does not constitute legal advice and should not be considered as such. It is intended to highlight some issues current at the date of its preparation. Specific advice should always be taken in order to take account of individual circumstances and no person reading this article is regarded as a client of this firm in respect of any of its contents.

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