Breaking Down Break-Ups 

Published on 03 January, 2017 | Sam Hall

Sam Hall - Hall Brown Family Law

The end of any relationship can be a traumatic event for those involved, not least because emotion doesn’t distinguish between those couples who have married or not. Even so, according to one newspaper report, break-ups are more now likely among those individuals who haven’t tied the knot. It claimed researchers analysing data obtained from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) had found that cohabitation collapse outnumbered marital breakdown for the first time in 2015.

We should not be too surprised, given that, only two months ago, the ONS had revealed that the number of cohabiting couples in England and Wales had more than doubled in the space of two decades.

On the basis of my experience and the cases also handled by my colleagues at Hall Brown, I think that any simplistic reading of the figures runs the risk of doing a disservice to that growing proportion of men and women who find marriage is simply not for them. Any suggestion that the commitments expressed in marital vows in themselves give couples a greater chance of overcoming domestic turbulence is wide of the mark.

If anything, the legal and financial issues associated with dissolving a marriage amount to more substantial hurdles confronting someone thinking about splitting up and their formally being single again. When they balance their disagreements against the various steps required to divorce, spouses are more likely to sleep in the spare room until the dust settles. It’s the kind of arrangement which we saw with great frequency during the last recession, as couples weighed up the cost and complications of “uncoupling”, to use the phrase coined by the actress Gwyneth Paltrow, and thought better of it.

By comparison, cohabiting couples – particularly those comprising one partner living in and not necessarily making a material contribution to a property owned by the other – often have less to argue about and, therefore, fewer administrative reasons stopping them from walking away. Arguably of greater importance than the legal status of those in failed relationships is the absence of cohabitation rights, entitling them to a measure of the protections afforded to married couples.

Even though a Private Members’ Bill aiming to correct the situation continues to inch its way through Parliament, there is no immediate prospect of things changing, meaning that individuals who may have helped raise children but hold no financial interest in the family property can be left in dire need if those children leave home and their relationships fall apart.

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