New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have shown that cohabitation is the UK’s fastest-growing family type, with the number of unmarried couples who live together having increased by more than a quarter in the last 10 years.
This means that the number of couples forming cohabiting relationships is now greater than the number of couples getting married.
In total, there are now 3.4 million cohabiting families in the UK, up from 2.7 million in 2008.
However, while the number of cohabiting couples has grown rapidly, the law has not kept pace with the change and cohabiting couples are at a major disadvantage in comparison to their married counterparts in a number of areas.
This includes the lack of provision for an equitable division of property on the breakdown of the relationship and disadvantages in regard to inheritance and bereavement benefits.
The myth of ‘common law marriage’ is widely blamed for cohabiting couples being unaware of the legal disadvantage they are at, with many believing that they automatically acquire equivalent rights to those enjoyed by married couples. Research has shown that 4.6 per cent of people in England and Wales believe that ‘common law marriage’ exists.