Marriages in decline – but cohabition risks

Marriage is in decline, but cohabiting couples must recognize the important financial and legal privileges they are forgoing, says Evelyn Partners.
Recent data revealed that for the first time the percentage of over-16s in England and Wales who are married or in a civil partnership has fallen below 50 per cent.

The Office for National Statistics has estimated that the 2022 figure had dropped to 49.4 per cent from 51.2 per cent a decade previously. Those aged under 30 years accounted for just 3.2% of the population who were married or civil partnered in 2022.

Zoe Bailey, Director of Financial Planning at leading UK wealth management firm Evelyn Partners, said:

“That suggests popping the question on Valentine’s Day might not be top of the agenda for many Millennial and Gen Z couples. It even remains to be seen whether marriage rates fully recover from the pandemic.”

There was a staggering drop of 61% in the number of marriages in England and Wales in 2020 from 219,850 in 2019, but this number of 85,770 was in large part due to pandemic-related restrictions. Lockdowns and restrictions had a significant impact on weddings for more than a year and numbers have now recovered, but data is yet to confirm whether these are now back to pre-pandemic levels.

Bailey added:

“Younger generations seem to be less certain than in the past about the virtues of cementing a relationship in law.”

Younger and middle-aged couples are increasingly content with just living together and not getting married. With the ONS figures showing that the total number of cohabiting couples has increased from around 1.5 million in 1996 to around 3.6 million in 2021, an increase of 144%.

Bailey commented further that there are important financial implications of this trend:

“Those in long-term relationships and cohabiting must recognise that they are forgoing significant tax benefits and possibly financial security by not getting married or remaining outside of civil partnership.

It’s understandable that some individuals might be averse to combining their finances with those of another, whether they are married or not – and some of those going through divorce might lament that they ever did. But couples can still look to put in place important cohabitation agreements in these circumstances.

While marrying for financial motives is few people’s idea of romance, it is also important to remain informed of the possible financial, and particularly tax, advantages of marriage – and the financial rights that someone does or does not have when cohabiting.”

Evelyn Partners did add this note to their analysis of this data:

A civil partnership is a legal relationship entered into by two people which is registered and provides couples with the same legal rights and duties that they would have in a lawful marriage – where we use ‘marriage’ or ‘married’ it’s understood the same rights confer to those in civil partnerships.

There are three areas that Evelyn Partners highlighted within their analysis as being different for those who are married or in a civil partnership versus those who are co-habiting:

  • Tax benefits
  • Inheritance privileges
  • Legal rights

Today’s Family Lawyer will be sharing information surrounding these, from both Evelyn Partners and the family law profession over the next few days.

Want to have your say? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more stories

Join nearly 3,000 other family practitioners - Check back daily for all the latest news, views, insights and best practice and sign up to our e-newsletter to receive our weekly round up every Thursday morning. 

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.