Family Law

Eighth edition

by Kate Standley

Updates for Chapter 3: Cohabitation

May 2014 update

3.1 Cohabitation

Statistics on cohabitation and family breakdown

Statistics from the Office for National Statistics

According to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), cohabitating couple families are now the fastest growing family type in the UK. The number of opposite sex cohabiting couple families increased from 1.5 million in 1996 to 2.9 million in 2013. The number of dependent children living in opposite sex cohabitating couple families has also more than doubled from 0.9 million in 1996 to around 1.9 million in 2013. During the same time period, the number of same-sex cohabitating couples has increased significantly from 16,000 in 1996 to 89,000, an increase of around 450 per cent.

3.4 Reform of the law

3.4 (a) Discussion of reform

On 29 April 2014, Sir James Munby P held a press conference at which he said that he was keen to tackle the ‘injustice’ faced by cohabiting couples when they separate. He said that this was a ‘long running problem’ which had been identified by judges since 1973 and that ‘something has got to be done’. His Lordship was not prepared to be specific about the way forward, but he did highlight examples of injustice, such as women who are not entitled to financial relief being ‘thrown on the scrapheap’ at a time when they have lost their earning potential because of their age and because of the time they have been out of employment. (see The Family Justice Reforms: Remarks by Sir James Munby, available at

January 2014 update

Statistics on cohabitation and family breakdown

Statistics from the Marriage Foundation

According to figures from the Marriage Foundation, (, cohabiting parents will soon account for half of all breakdowns in the UK. Although about 19 per cent of parents are unmarried, they currently account for 48 per cent of all family breakdowns. The Foundation estimates that this figure will reach 50 per cent by the end of 2013. Also, the percentage of cohabiting couples with dependent children under the age of 16 who break up each year is already several times that of married couples: 5.3 per cent compared to 1.3 per cent in the case of married couples. See the Briefing Note, Unmarried parents account for one fifth of couples but half of all family breakdown, Harry Benson, December 2013, available on the Marriage Foundation website.

Statistics from the Office for National Statistics

The number of cohabiting couples in the UK has risen by 22 per cent in the last decade, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). There are now three million cohabiting couples in the UK, despite an ONS prediction in 2010 that the number would not reach 3.3 million until 2033.

The ONS has predicted that the majority of UK children will be born to unmarried parents by 2016. According to new ONS figures, children born to unmarried parents rose for the 40th consecutive year in 2012, reaching 47.5 per cent. The proportion is expected to exceed 50 per cent within three years. In 1938, when the ONS began collecting the data, just four per cent of children were born to unmarried parents.

3.4 Reform of the law – Proposals for reform

The Cohabitation Rights Bill 2013-14

This bill, a Private Members’ Bill, was introduced into the House of Lords in October 2013 by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Marks QC. The Bill aims to implement recommendations made by the Law Commission in 2007. If passed the new law would apply to all couples who have lived together for a period of two years or more, or who have children. Such couples would gain new rights, including the right to apply for a financial settlement order within two years of the relationship ending, providing the applicant made a qualifying contribution. These orders would be similar to those made in divorce cases, so that the court would be able to make lump sum orders, property orders and pension sharing orders. Couples would only be allowed to opt out of the proposed new scheme if they had received independent legal advice. It also makes provision about the property of deceased persons who are survived by a cohabitant.
For content, summary and progress of the Bill, see

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