The Office for National Statistics (Families and Households survey, released 5 November 2015) has shown that unmarried living together is the fastest growing family type. The statistics disclose that in 2015 there were 3.1 million opposite sex cohabiting couple families, an increase from 14% of all families in 2005 to 17% in 2015. This difference is described as a “statistically significant increase”. In the case of opposite sex cohabiting couple families, 41% have dependent children in their homes which figure is 3% for same sex cohabiting couple families. Also, in 2015 there were 90,000 same sex cohabiting couple families in the UK. These figures mean that there are more unmarried couples with no children in the household than those who do have children in the household.
There is a big gap between the protection the law offers to married couples compared to those who are unmarried. This leads to much debate about the extent to which the law needs to close the gap; that is, should unmarried couples who choose to live together and not marry, be given rights closer or equal to those who make the choice to marry?
There is no right or wrong answer. However, given the increased numbers who chose to live together and not marry, the law should at least be as clear as it can to help such couples divide their money and property if and when they separate without the added worry and cost of an uncertain legal position.
These relationships cover a wide range of situations, from childless couples who have lived together for a short period, maybe days and months, to those who have lived together for many many years, have had children together and where one of the parties, typically, might have given up or slowed down a career for the sake of bringing up their children. So it can be seen to be very difficult to create a system that provides fairness in all of these different situations whilst being straightforward, clear and cheap to administer.