Is Marriage For You?
Helen Lucking, family law partner at Napthens considers the legal differences between couples living together and being married
The latest available statistics show that the number of divorces has fallen by more than a third in 14 years. There were just over 107,000 divorces in 2016, 30 per cent lower than the record high of 172,000 in 2003. By contrast the number of people getting married has only decreased by 10 per cent.
It seems to me that marriage is something people are taking seriously and fewer people are rushing into it.
Generally, there seems to be less pressure on young people to wed. There is of course, less stigma attached to living together than there used to be and couples are often more interested in buying their first property together and getting onto the property ladder.
However, one thing that people may not be aware of, is that if you get married after living together as husband and wife and then the relationship breaks down, the whole length of the relationship is taken into account, rather than just the actual time since you tied the knot. This means that a 10 year relationship followed by a two year marriage prior to separation, becomes a 12 year marriage. That is considered quite a long marriage and has implications for the financial remedies available to the court upon divorce.
There are of course ways of avoiding a difficult division of finances following a divorce and these can be greatly assisted by parties entering into a prenuptial agreement prior to their marriage. Such agreements do need to be properly drafted well in advance of the wedding and both parties need to take separate independent legal advice.
If marriage is not for you and you still want to show your commitment to each other by living together, then a cohabitation agreement should be put in place.
These agreements set out how the finances are dealt with during the relationship and what should happen upon separation. The agreement sets out in detail what each party can expect to receive following a separation and how joint assets are to be divided.
At the end of the day it boils down to a couple’s individual preference. However, couples need to be aware that the legal status of marriage is completely different to that of simply living together. If couples are in any doubt about their legal rights they should take legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in family law.
Helen Lucking is a family law partner based at Napthens’ Preston office
7 Winckley Square, Preston PR1 3JD