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Divorce rate at lowest level for 40 years as cohabitation increases

The divorce rate has fallen to its lowest level since 1975, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Just over 130,000 couples divorced in the UK in 2013, the latest figures available. That’s a fall of 3% on the previous year. The number of divorces fell to 9.8 per thousand married men or women. That’s the lowest level for 40 years.

The decrease coincided with a much larger shift towards couples living together without marrying.
There has been a 30% increase in the number of families headed by cohabiting couples since the mid-1990s.

However, there has also been a rise in the number of people getting married in recent years, many of them having lived with their partners before tying the knot.

It’s thought that the experience of living together can add stability to some relationships making couples less likely to divorce once they marry. The figures show that younger couples who marry are now more likely than their parents’ generation to get past the ‘seven year itch’.

One of the reasons many cohabiting couples marry after living together is to provide greater security in case their relationship breaks down. Marriage provides certain automatic rights relating to important matters such as children and money that are not available to cohabiting couples.

This often leaves cohabitees in difficult circumstances with little they can do to protect their interests if they separate from their partners. This lack of protection has been a concern for family lawyers for several years.

Jo Edwards, chair of the family law organisation Resolution, said although the fall in the divorce rate was very encouraging “cohabitation separation is not included in these statistics”.

She added: “There are still many thousands of British families who are experiencing family breakdown every year, whether that’s divorce or separation.”

Despite campaigning by the Law Society and others, the government has been reluctant to give cohabiting couples the same rights as those who are married.

This has led many cohabitees to draw up living together agreements with the help of a solicitor. These are documents that set out in advance the kind of arrangements that should be made regarding children, money and property if the couple separate.

Many couples say these agreements help to strengthen their relationship because they provide certainty and security for both parties.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.

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