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The latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed in 2015, a total of 23.8 million people, or 50.6% of the total population over the age of 16, were married. This is a noticeable drop when compared to 2002, when 54.8% of people were married.

In line with this, it was also found that between 2002 and 2015, the number of adults who described themselves as ‘single’ increased from 29.6% to 34.5%.

Rise in cohabitation

The drop in the number of couples choosing to get married also coincides with figures showing that cohabitation is on the up. Over 28.4 million people lived with their partner without being married, according to the ONS figures for 2015. This represents 60.5% of the UK’s population over the age of 16, and considerably higher than the 50.6% couples who live together and are married.

As for why these changes have taken place, there are several possible factors to take into account. The economic recession may put some couples off spending so much money on getting married (the average cost of a wedding in 2014 was £20,983, according to a survey by the You & Your Wedding bridal brand), with some preferring to save up for a first home together instead. The UK is perceived to be more secular than it once was, and young people are also enjoying more non-traditional relationships.

Do cohabiting couples have enough protection if they separate?

While there are many different legal protections in place for separating married couples, the same can’t always be said for cohabiting couples – which could leave people at risk if they co-own properties or have children and don’t have a UK partnership law expert in their corner.

Commenting on the new ONS statistics on Family Law Week, Graeme Fraser, the spokesperson for family law organisation Resolution, said:

"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.

"In light of the latest ONS data, reform of the law for cohabiting couples should be one of the top priorities for the new Justice Secretary."

If you need expert advice on any aspect of family law, from divorce to your rights in relation to property, assets and custody of dependants if you are cohabiting and you separate from your partner, get in touch with the leading divorce solicitors in Liverpool, Tracey Miller Family Law.