The changing nature of the modern family has been thrown into sharp focus thanks to new figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It has revealed that the number of men and women in the UK choosing to cohabit rather than marry has almost doubled in the last 16 years, from 1.5 million in 1996 to 2.9 million in 2012.
The ONS added that the number of children living in these cohabiting households has doubled – from 900,000 to 1.8 million – over the same period.
When you add to that a drop in the number of married couples (down nearly half a million in the period covered by the ONS research) and the fact that single parents now account for some 26 per cent of all families with dependent children in the UK, it’s clear to see that the picture is very much different from that which might have been familiar, if you pardon the pun, to previous generations.
The ONS data accurately reflects my own experiences and those of my colleagues in Pannone’s Family department.
We find ourselves handling an increasing number of cohabitation disputes including those involving the children of unmarried couples.
Together with decreasing marriage numbers and the frequency with which we are dealing with couples divorcing in their late twenties and early thirties, it’s possible to conclude that fewer couples seem committed to the idea of marrying. Choosing to legally separate rather than work through marital difficulties is also no longer seen as the social stigma with which it had been regarded in years past.
The newly-documented increase in popularity of cohabitation does appear to add weight to calls for Government to introduce legislation to clarify the status of couples who choose not to marry and their rights should they break up.
As Pannone has remarked in the past, both on this blog and in the national print and broadcast media, the breakdown of cohabitating couples can be complex.
Whatever the nature of your own relationship – whether it is a cohabitation or marriage – it is important to be able to rely on straightforward advice from lawyers who can guide you through the potential complications to achieve a resolution which is right for you and your family.
To arrange a discussion with one of the Pannone family lawyers, click here or call us on 0800 840 4929. We are available to take your call twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
For more advice and insight, you can also read our family law blog or follow us on Twitter @Divorce_experts.
Claire Reid, Senior Associate