The Court of Protection & deputies

Publish date

3 October 2023

Is Marriage Becoming Less Popular?

Recent statistics on activity in the family courts of England and Wales for the period April to June 2023 confirm that fewer people are divorcing. In this three month period, under the new “no-fault” divorce legislation, which came into force on 6 April, 2022, the courts received 24,624 divorce applications. This is a significant decrease of 30%, from the same period last year.

The decrease in divorces may be linked to a decrease in marriages. Marriage rates have been declining year on year for forty years, with the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics showing that only 213,000 heterosexual couples married in 2019. This represents a decrease of more than 50% since the peak in 1972.

Why are fewer people marrying?

There seem to be two main reasons; firstly, many people simply delay marriage for several years, and secondly many more simply don’t feel the need to get married.

When it comes to marriage, age is a factor. The average age for heterosexual couples getting married in 2019 was 34.3 years for men and 32.3 years for women. This continues the trend of an overall rise in the average age at marriage since the early 1970s. Anecdotal evidence suggests that more people are choosing to get married later in life, especially the over 65s. For many, establishing a career or travelling the world, seems more attractive. Marriage can wait!  As a result, marriage rates continue to fall, especially among younger groups.

For many, marriage seems to have lost its allure or couples are simply happy to commit to a long term relationship, without the need, for example, to have a religious ceremony, or to spend tens of thousands of pounds on a wedding.

How can you protect yourself if you choose not to get married?

Instead, many more couples choose to cohabit, rather than marry. Indeed, cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type. For example, couples living together between the ages of 25 years and 34 years were 27% more likely to be cohabiting in 2021, than they were in 2011.

However, it is important for couples to protect themselves legally, even if they choose not to commit to marriage, especially as almost 70% of cohabiting couples are under the mistaken impression that a “common law marriage” exists. They believed that cohabiting for a period of time (two years was the most common) entitled them to the same rights as married couples. It came as a shock to many therefore, to discover they often had no rights, or fewer rights than they believed they were entitled to.

For example, an unmarried person has no automatic right to make a financial claim against their former partner, even after a twenty year relationship. Also, in some circumstances, they may have no rights in respect of their child (until granted by the court).

Therefore, to avoid being seriously prejudiced, it is advisable to take expert legal advice when considering cohabitation. In particular, having a cohabitation agreement, however unromantic that may seem, will provide more certainty and protection for an unmarried person, in the event of separation.

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