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Family Law Blog

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Are couples steering clear of marriage for fear of divorce?

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Cohabiting couples fastest growing family group.

The office for National Statistics has recently reported that cohabitating couples are the fastest growing family type. Apparently, it is now the second largest family type and has doubled its figures from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million families in 2017. The explanation, I presume is that these days people are choosing to cohabit instead of marrying or at least to cohabit before marriage but I wonder why that is the increasing trend. Is it that people are afraid of marriage these days? Is it that living together before marriage is not frowned upon as much as it used to be and well… its just easier?  

Has wedding planning lost its appeal?

I think back to my own “wedding planning” and remember the excitement… choosing the venue, creating a mouth-watering menu and of course not to forget … the dress! With it of course also comes some stress. The politics of the guest list, trying not to upset the future in-laws, praying for the weather not to mention the overall cost but I wouldn’t say that any of these upstage a wedding day, do they?

Isn’t there also the romance of long lasting love and happiness?  So, I find myself wondering why our nation would appear to have turned their backs on the notion of marriage. Its possible that its because civil partnerships and same sex marriages are still relative newcomers to obtaining legal status and hence statistics for cohabiting couples also include same sex couples?

Of course, it is possible that the mere thought of a marriage possibly ending in divorce is enough to sway a couple to cohabitation in favour of marriage.  Sadly, I have often heard people say they have been separated a while but now they want a divorce “its going to get ugly”. I think its sad if that is the general perception because that is certainly not how a divorce needs to be, particularly if handled correctly by all concerned, including the lawyers!

One clear way to limit the fear and uncertainty that flows from a relationship breakup is to have a prenuptial agreement. Its not romantic, I agree and probably shouldn’t be up there with the pleasures of wedding planning, but we could put it on the list along with guest politics and in-laws, couldn’t we? It provides financial protection and assurance and deserves consideration.  

My biggest worry is that when cohabiting couples separate they are sometimes devastated to discover that they don’t have the same legal protection that the law provides for married couples. Unlike for a married couple where assets become joint with marriage (unless they have a prenup, of course), for couples who live together unless they have consciously set things up in join names, like bank accounts, mortgages and so on their assets are their own. A cohabitation or living together agreement can help set out how you would like your finances settled should you separate, but unlike a married couple you don’t have the opportunity of brining this up at the wedding planning stage. Maybe it’s something to be considered as soon as you move in together and start to intertwine your finances. If you don’t you are really at the mercy of the good will of your other half when you separate.

Alison Ratchford
Divorce & Family Lawyer, Warwick

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