Cohabitation disputes increase as divorce rates fall

A family law expert has reported an increase in the number of cohabitation disputes arising, as more people choose to live together but remain unmarried.

Gill Graveson, partner at Birchall Blackburn Law and head of family law for the firm’s seven offices, spoke of the increase following the release of statistics revealing divorce rates are at the lowest level in 40 years.

The figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that there were 111,169 divorces in 2014, a decrease of 3.1 per cent compared with 2013 and a decline of 27 per cent from a recent peak in 2003, continuing a downward trend seen in recent years.

Analysts said the decrease appears to reflect the overall shift away from marriage, with more couples choosing to cohabit either permanently or to ‘test drive’ before marriage.

Gill said: “While it may be seen as good news that divorce rates are at their lowest level for more than four decades, likely factors include an increase in cohabitation or the increased average age of newlyweds.

“Couples who live together do not have the same rights as couples who are married and we are seeing an increase in the number of cohabitation disputes we deal with. It’s worth remembering if you’re opting for cohabitation but not marriage to think about putting a cohabitation agreement in place – it could prove useful down the line.”

Gill added: “In recent years the number of cohabitation agreements we draw up for couples has also increased, people are becoming more aware of the need to protect their assets.

“A cohabitation agreement can set out your intentions of what will happen to your assets, it outlines what you brought into the relationship and what you expect to happen to it if the relationship should break down.”

Earlier this year new figures showed that the percentage of cohabiting couples had increased from 6.8 per cent of the total population in 2002 to 9.5 per cent in 2015, reflecting a decrease in married couples: from 54.8 per cent in 2002 to 50.6 per cent in 2015.