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Number of cohabiting couples has doubled in last 20 years, says ONS data

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The number of cohabiting couples in the UK has doubled over the last 20 years, and has been the fastest-growing family type over the same period, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Figures from the ONS reveal that there are currently 3.3 million cohabiting couple families in the UK – effectively meaning that there are 3.3 million families out there who would be unprotected by English law in the event of a relationship breakdown.

This is because unmarried couples have no legal right to claim ownership of one another’s property or assets in the event of a separation – which can potentially be a real problem in situations where one party is deemed the sole legal owner of a family home.

Despite this fact, many cohabiting couples are unaware of their lack of statutory rights and some even wrongly assume that rights will automatically arise for them over the course of a long-term relationship.

The ONS report said that “changes in attitudes to cohabitation as an alternative to marriage or prior to marriage, particularly at younger ages” had caused “levels of cohabitation to increase” among the younger community, “while the married population declined”.

However, ONS’ report also suggested that divorce rates among over-55s had remained remarkably high since 2003.