The last 10 years has seen a huge increase in the number of people cohabiting with dependent children, at the same time as the number of married couples with dependent children has shrunk – at least that’s according to sociologists at Leeds University. So is living together now a genuine alternative to marriage, rather than the first step towards it?
The study details an increase, over the period, of a full 34% in the couples who are cohabiting with dependent children – up to over 290,000. By contrast, the study found that at the same time, the figures for married couples with dependent children had gone down by 320,000.
77% the participants in the study felt that it was not necessary for couples to be married before having children and with the same proportion of unmarried children having children as married couples (38%), it is clear that social attitudes are changing.
However, the law is yet to catch up to today’s liberal attitudes towards the family. English law notoriously views marriage as an institution rather than a contract, a position which is not shared in other European states. In the event of a relationship breakdown, unmarried couples have very few rights in comparison with married couples and the absence of meaningful legal provisions for unmarried couples remains one of the obtrusive deficiencies of our legal system. This creates complex problems when it comes to childcare and property rights for unmarried couples who separate.
This area of the law is anachronous and requires urgent reform. In 2008, the British Social Attitudes Report concluded that 90% of respondents believed that a cohabiting partner should be entitled to financial recompense if their relationship was long, they had children or one cohabitant sacrificed their career to prioritise their partner’s.
But it’s remarkable how many people who live together but only have a few ideas of their rights, but also don’t bother to safeguard all clarify them. When it comes to family law, legal advice is not just for divorce.
Given the vulnerability of many cohabitants in the lack of knowledge generally about this area of the law, our family solicitors strongly suggest that cohabiting couples seek legal advice on how to safeguard their rights and the wellbeing of their dependents in the event of a relationship breakdown.