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Cohabitation on the increase, the largest proportion aged 40-49 years

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The latest release by the Office for National Statistics from the 2011 Census reveals that in 2011 12% (5.3 million) of adults living in households in England and Wales were living as part of a cohabiting couple which represents a 9.8% increase (4 million adults) from 2001.

People aged 40 and over accounted for 41% of all the cohabiting population in England and Wales (up from 31% in 2001).  The Office of National Statistics suggests that possible reasons include the increasing number of divorced people and the social acceptability of cohabitation following divorce or instead of marriage.

The age group which saw the largest increase in people cohabiting was those aged 40 to 49 (up from 9.3% in 2001 to 14% in 2011).

The law relating to cohabiting people with regard to property and financial consequences upon separation is very different to that relating to married people, which leaves people potentially being vulnerable as a result, especially if they are living in their partner’s property which is in their partner’s sole name.

In the last decade, there was reason to believe that a change would be introduced in England and Wales due to the Law Commission’s report, “Cohabitation: The Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown” (Law Com No. 307) which was published on 31st July 2007. The report strongly recommended a remedy to the current inadequate law for cohabiters. Indeed in September 2013, the Liberal Democrats’ Party Conference adopted a policy of supporting the implementation of the Law Commission reforms, however no action has been taken by the Government.

This leaves an uncertain and complicated situation, in which it is vital to protect yourself with a Cohabitation Agreement if you are cohabiting or plan to do so, and to obtain expert legal advice upon your separation.

By Donna Leigh, Family law solicitor