According to newly-released statistics from the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS), co-habiting couples – both opposite-sex and same-sex – are the fastest growing family type in the UK.
The data is included in the ONS’ Families and Households, 2014 report, which revealed that cohabiting couple families grew by 29.7% between 2004 and 2014.
Cohabiting couple families now account for 16.4% of all families within the UK – despite the fact that cohabiting does not offer the parties involved the same rights and legal protections as marriage or civil partnership.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of cohabiting couples are opposite-sex relationships, but in 2014 there were approximately 9,000 same-sex cohabiting couple families with dependent children, and 75,000 same-sex cohabiting couples without dependent children (up from a figure of 60,000 in 2004).
On top of this, there were approximately 12,000 civil partner couples with dependent children living in the UK in 2014, and 49,000 civil partner couples without dependent children.
In total, this adds up to 145,000 same-sex couples cohabiting or in a civil partnership – 21,000 of whom have dependent children. These figures would suggest that around one out of every seven same-sex couple that lives together has dependent children.
However, to further complicate matters, these figures do not include same-sex married couples.
As the The Marriages (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 only came into effect last year, and marriages commenced in England and Wales in March 2014, they have not been included on this year’s annual data. Further details about same-sex married couples and their households will be included in the next Household and Families report.
Legal experts have been quick to comment on the rise in cohabiting couples, particularly in relation to the fact that such relationships do not offer the same legal protections as marriage.
Speaking about the figures, Alison Hawes, a partner in the family and divorce law team at Irwin Mitchell, told FamilyLaw.co.uk: ‘The idea of a common law partner whereby people simply living together have the same rights as married couples is currently a myth and it is about time the out of touch cohabitation laws were brought up to date.
‘Many people in this situation don’t know that they are not well protected in the event of a separation and we have seen examples of people literally being left out in the cold because they have been evicted from a house they have shared with their partner for years.’