The nation seems to have spent a bit of time in recent weeks pondering whether more rights should be given to co-habiting couples. In his blog (How can unmarried couples get greater rights than married ones?) Andrew looked at this topic a few weeks ago. Of course, what we all completely failed to look at was trends relating to partners living together. I think the consensus is that more couples are trying it – but does it last? Are long term co-habitations now the norm? ONS data appears to suggest that it is not. This, perhaps, justifies all the talk about protecting the rights of unmarried couples in the event of a break-up.
The fact is that only one in ten unmarried couples are still living together (unmarried) after 10 years. This is based upon a set of retrospective histories from the General Household Survey between 1979 and 2007 and presented in Cohabitation and Marriage since the 1970s, by Eve Beaujouan and Maire Ni Bhrolchain.
The research shows that cohabitation remains a relatively short-term arrangement. Half marry within 10 years and four out of five have gone their separate ways. Men and women now enter their first partnership about two years later, on average, than in the early 1980s, while marriage is five years later with the additional delay due both to the growth in the frequency of cohabitation before marriage and to couples living together for longer before first marriage than in the recent past.
So what does this tell us? It tells us that half of cohabitees do ultimately want to be joined in marriage. The reasons behind that are many and varied, some old fashioned some new, but ultimately they will enjoy the legal benefits and responsibilities that come from being joined legally in the eyes of the law.
For the four out of five who will split up within 10 years, they definitely do need to look at some sort of agreement formalising their arrangements. This will make things easier to sort out when a break-up occurs, setting out what to do with joint assets. I know it is not a nice subject for excited couples to think about when they move in together, just the same as pre-nups remain unsavoury for those about to walk down the aisle, but the figures speak for themselves. Somewhere between a third and half of all marriages fail and this latest research shows that almost 50 per cent of couples living together outside of wedlock will end up going their separate ways.
Are these, then, the hard facts that we can use to really sell the idea that people need to protect themselves? I doubt it. I don’t think we will ever find an argument that people want to hear, but while we search for it, maybe this bit of research can help us paint a realistic picture and ensure that living together agreements are at least on the radar.
Woolley & Co, Solicitors