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As marriage rates collapse among middle classes, it has never been more important for cohabiting couples to protect their rights

According to a recent study by the Marriage Foundation, the middle classes are turning their backs on marriage.

While the vast majority (84%) of middle earning families with young children were still marrying in 1994, only 59% were married in 2012. That’s a drop of 25% over 18 years. In the 1990’s, this trend away from marriage was, on the whole, confined to low-income groups. However, if the research is correct, this now seems to be spreading.

Of course, today the UK benefits from a variety of diverse family structures, and, for many, the idea of marriage has become both outdated and unnecessary. However, according to the Marriage Foundation: “When a social-economic group turns away from marriage, we see a corresponding hike in the rates of family breakdown” and that is worrying.

Added to this, while there are many cohabiting couples who enjoy a long and happy relationship together, according to the report, only a small proportion of parents who do not marry make it, as a couple, to their child’s fifteenth birthday. Likewise, while cohabiting couples make up only 19% of parents, they also account for half of all family breakdowns.

Faced with such gloomy statistics, it has never been more important for unmarried couples to ensure that, should the worst happen, their legal rights are protected.

Unfortunately however, what many unmarried couples don’t know, is that legally, they have almost no rights if their relationship breaks down. Despite the myth of the common-law spouse, the reality is that cohabiting couples have no automatic right to a share of the home they lived in together if the property is held in their ex‘s name. In addition, they have no right to claim financial support, no matter how long they have lived together, and they don’t even count as legal next-of-kin.

If however, you can prove what was intended when you moved in together (e.g. by confirming who paid the mortgage deposit, subsequent mortgage payments, or contributed towards significant home improvements), you might be able to claim rights to a share of the property. As such, an express written agreement as to who should have what, should the relationship break down, is crucial.

If you and your partner decide to live together without tying the knot, it is vital to obtain legal advice at the outset of your relationship, or as soon as possible thereafter, to make sure that your rights are protected should you separate. At Linder Myers, our family law solicitors provide expert legal advice for individuals, couples and families with children, in both same-sex and heterosexual relationships. If you’d like to discuss any of the above, or any other issues relating to family law, please contact us today.

Find out more about our Family department

Written by Colin Davies. Find out more about Colin here. 

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