The Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’) has released its latest figures for marriages in England and Wales, for the year 2017.

Amongst the main points revealed by the statistics were that there were 242,842 marriages in England and Wales in 2017, a decrease of 2.8% from 2016; that marriage rates for opposite-sex couples in 2017 were the lowest on record, with 21.2 marriages per 1,000 unmarried men and 19.5 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women; and that nearly 9 in 10 (88%) of opposite-sex couples cohabited before getting married in 2017 – this proportion has steadily increased over the last 20 years from 69% in 1997 to 81% in 2007, and is in line with the increasing level of cohabitation seen more generally.

Kanak Ghosh of the Vital Statistics Outputs Branch at the ONS commented:

“Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples are now at the lowest level on record. This continues a gradual long-term decline seen since the early 1970s, with numbers falling by a third over the past 40 years.”

The decline in the popularity of marriage, and the accompanying increase in the popularity of cohabitation, clearly demonstrates the need to give basic legal rights to cohabitants when their relationship breaks down.

As the law stands at present, cohabitants cannot seek any sort of financial support for themselves from their former partners, and cannot make any property claim, save in very limited circumstances. This means that every year thousands of people are suffering unnecessary financial hardship following the breakdown of their relationship.

For example, a woman who lived with her partner in his home and had a family with him may find herself homeless and penniless at the end of a long relationship, despite spending those years looking after the home and bringing up the family.

Campaigners for rights for cohabitants are not asking for them to be given the same rights as a married person on divorce. Instead, they propose that they be given basic rights, to prevent the sort of hardship referred to above.

For example, in 2007 the Law Commission recommended that cohabitants who had had a child together or had lived together for a minimum period should be able to apply to a court for ‘financial relief’, provided that they had made ‘qualifying contributions’ to the relationship, as a result of which the other party had obtained a benefit or they had suffered an economic disadvantage. Couples could specifically agree to disapply the scheme. Unfortunately, in 2011 the Government announced that it would not take forward these recommendations.

However, in the ensuing years the marriage rate has continued to decline, as demonstrated by these latest figures. More and more couples are choosing to live together without getting married. Surely, the time has now come to give them basic financial rights on relationship breakdown?

You can find the ONS statistical bulletin here.

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If you have been in a cohabiting relationship then, as indicated above, your rights will be very limited. If you do wish to make a claim in respect of property or on behalf of a child then you should seek the advice of an expert family lawyer. Family Law Café can put you in touch with an expert – call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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The latest annual statistical bulletin giving estimates of population by legal marital status and cohabitation status by age and sex for England and Wales, for the year 2018, has been published by the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’).

The main points were:

• The proportion of the population aged 16 years and over in England and Wales who are married has continued to decline in 2018 to 50.5%, down from 51.0% in 2017.

• Whilst the proportion of the population under age 70 years who are married has declined, the proportion aged 70 years and over who are married has increased from 50.3% in 2008 to 55.8% in 2018.

• The number of people aged 16 years and over who are single and have never married has continued to increase, rising by 369,000 from 2017, to a total of 16.7 million people (35.0%) in 2018.

• The number of people aged 16 years and over who live with a partner and have never married has continued to increase, rising by 1.3 million people since 2008, to a total of 5.0 million (10.4%) in 2018.

A statistician at the ONS commented:

“In England and Wales, around half of the population aged 16 years and over were married in 2018. The proportion of people married has been in decline over the last decade, while the single population has been increasing.

“However, those in their 70s and beyond are seeing a different trend where, despite a modest rise in the divorced population, the proportion of people aged 70 years and over who are married has been increasing at a greater rate.”

These figures show a clear and continued trend away from marriage, and towards cohabitation, particularly amongst the younger population. Why might this be? Could it be that they increasingly see marriage as ‘old fashioned’? Or could it be that they simply don’t want to make the commitment that marriage entails?

Whatever your reasons may be for choosing a particular living arrangement, it is important that you know your rights. Family Law Cafe can advise you. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

The statistical bulletin can be found on the ONS’s website, here.

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Family Law Cafe’s accessible team of legal experts from various disciplines expedites the customer’s case and keeps them informed and in control 24/7 through a unique and secure online portal.

Image: ‘Just Married’, by Stewart Black, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This morning the ITV breakfast show Good Morning Britain covered a story of a poll that indicated that 24 percent of 16-24 year-olds believe that marriage should be like a mobile phone contract, that can be renewed or terminated after two years.

It sounds preposterous, but is there some merit in such an idea?

The idea is not actually new, having been proposed by various people in recent years. For example, back in 2011 the authorities in Mexico City looked into the possibility of reducing divorce rates by the introduction of a renewable marriage contract, which would give couples a two-year trial-run to see if their marriage had what it took to stand the test of time. Perhaps not surprisingly the idea never became law.

That, however, was just for the first two years of marriage, rather than constantly renewable throughout the marriage.

No doubt many would be appalled at the idea that a marriage shouldn’t at least be entered into with the intention that it is to be a life-long commitment. However, the reality is of course that marriage is often not for life. The most recent figures show that 42% of marriages end in divorce. Could it be, as some of those Mexicans thought, that ‘renewability’ could actually be a good thing for the institution of marriage?

It could also obviously be a good thing for divorce rates, with incompatible parties simply deciding not to renew their marriage contract, rather than having to divorce.

And renewable marriage contracts could encourage spouses to regularly think about what, if anything, is wrong with their marriage, and therefore put it right, before drifting into a position when it is too late to repair the marriage.

So the idea of such contracts may not be as silly as may at first appear. Having said that, we very much doubt that we will see them in this country any time in the foreseeable future.

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Family Law Cafe surrounds and supports the customer with both legal and pastoral care, end to end, from top barristers to case workers to therapists and mediators, to help the customer get the best possible result with the minimum stress.

Image: ITV (ITV (Television Station)) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

The Supreme Court has held that a mother should be entitled to widowed parent’s allowance following the death of her partner, despite the fact that she was not married to him. The ruling has been criticised in some quarters for eroding the difference between marriage and cohabitation.

In the case Siobhan McLaughlin had lived in Northern Ireland with her partner John Adams  for 23 years, until he died on 28 January 2014. They did not marry because Mr Adams had promised his first wife that he would never remarry. They had four children, who were aged 19 years, 17 years, 13 years and 11 years when their father died. Mr Adams had made sufficient National Insurance contributions for Ms McLaughlin to be able to claim widowed parent’s allowance had she been married to him.

Ms McLaughlin’s claim for widowed parent’s allowance was refused by the Northern Ireland Department for Communities, on the basis that the allowance could only be claimed by someone who was married to, or the civil partner of, the deceased. She applied for judicial review of that decision, on the ground that the relevant legislation was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’). That claim succeeded in the High Court in Belfast, but a subsequent government challenge to that ruling was upheld in the Court of Appeal.

Ms McLaughlin appealed to the Supreme Court, which allowed her appeal, by a majority of four to one. The Supreme Court also made a declaration that the legislation precluding any entitlement to widowed parent’s allowance by a surviving unmarried partner of the deceased was incompatible with the ECHR. It will be for the relevant legislature to decide whether or how the law should be changed.

As indicated, the ruling has been criticised by some for eroding the difference between marriage and cohabitation. However, the majority of the Supreme Court justices found that the purpose of the allowance was not just to assist the survivor but also the children. Giving one of the majority judgments Lady Hale said:

“The allowance exists because of the responsibilities of the deceased and the survivor towards their children. Those responsibilities are the same whether or not they are married to or in a civil partnership with one another. The purpose of the allowance is to diminish the financial loss caused to families with children by the death of a parent. That loss is the same whether or not the parents are married to or in a civil partnership with one another.”

The couple’s children, she said, should not suffer the disadvantage of the allowance not being paid because their parents chose not to marry. And Lord Mance, also with the majority, said:

“Bearing in mind that the main purpose of widowed parent allowance is to secure the continuing well-being of any child of a survivor, there seems in this context to be no tenable distinction, and indeed manifest incongruity in the difference in treatment, between a child of a couple who are married or civil partners and the child of a couple who are not.

“In a large number of cases the effect would also be to discriminate against a child who was illegitimate.”

He went on:

” A policy in favour of marriage or civil partnership may constitute justification for differential treatment, when children are not involved. But it cannot do so in relation to a benefit targeted at the needs and well-being of children.”

Thus the primary basis of the Supreme Court decision is not to put cohabitants on a par with married couples, but rather to ensure that children are not discriminated against simply because their parents chose not to marry. The effect of the decision may have been to remove one small difference between the rights of cohabitants and those of married couples, but it can hardly be said to have eroded the difference between marriage and cohabitation.

You can read the full judgment of the Supreme Court here.

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Image of Lady Hale reproduced from the Supreme Court website, Crown copyright, licensed under the Open Government Licence.

A High Court judgment in relation to an Islamic marriage has caused confusion in some quarters, with it being reported that the judgment means that such marriages will be recognised by English law.

In the case Akhter v Khan the parties undertook an Islamic marriage ceremony in Southall, London, in 1998. However, they did not go through a civil marriage ceremony that was valid under English law.

The marriage lasted for 18 years, during which time the parties considered themselves to be married to each other and held themselves out to the world at large as husband and wife.

In November 2016 the wife issued divorce proceedings. The husband defended the divorce, on the basis that the parties had not entered a marriage valid according to English law. In her reply, the wife claimed that the presumption of marriage arising out of cohabitation and reputation applied so as to validate the marriage. In the alternative, she claimed that the marriage was a void marriage, as it had not complied with the necessary legal requirements.

The question as to the legal status of the marriage fell to be decided by Mr Justice Williams in the High Court. The question was of vital importance, as if there was no marriage at all then the wife could not make any financial claims against the husband. On the other hand, if there was a valid marriage, or if the marriage was void, then she could pursue such claims, either within the divorce proceedings if the marriage was valid, or within nullity proceedings if the marriage was void (a void marriage is ended by annulment).

Mr Justice Williams held that the marriage had not been validated by the presumption of marriage, as the presumption of marriage did not operate on the facts of the case so as to presume a valid marriage under English law. However, he did hold that it was a void marriage, and accordingly the wife was entitled to a decree of nullity.

As Mr Justice Williams explained, the case was not about whether an Islamic marriage ceremony should be treated as creating a valid marriage in English law. A couple who go through an Islamic marriage ceremony will still need to go through a civil ceremony if they want the marriage to be recognised by English law.

You can read the whole of Mr Justice Williams’ judgment here.

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Family Law Cafe’s accessible team of legal experts from various disciplines expedites the customer’s case and keeps them informed and in control 24/7 through a unique and secure online portal.

Image of Islamic bride signing marriage papers by S.M. Samee [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons.

This week the entertainment and celebrity media was full of the news that Jennifer Aniston had ended her two-and-a-half-year marriage to Justin Theroux. Naturally, this news prompted a frenzy of media scrutiny, and amongst the various stories that subsequently emerged was the suggestion that Ms Aniston and Mr Theroux were never, in fact, married, despite going through a wedding ceremony in Los Angeles in 2015.

Now, we are not going to speculate upon the accuracy of this rumour, but it does raise a serious point: in most cases, in order to get a financial settlement you must first be married to your ‘spouse’! It sounds trite, but the situation can arise that a person can be denied a settlement because they were never actually married.

Take, for example, the 2012 case Dukali v Lamrani. In that case the wife had been through a ‘divorce’ in Morocco. A person whose marriage has been dissolved in an overseas country may apply to the courts in this country for a financial settlement, if the divorce is recognised in England and Wales. This is what the wife did. However, the question then arose as to whether there had ever been a valid marriage. Unfortunately for her, the wife was not able to demonstrate this, and therefore her application was refused.

Needless to say, if you are in any doubt as to the validity of your marriage, you should seek expert legal advice…

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Family Law Cafe surrounds and supports the customer with both legal and pastoral care, end to end, from top barristers to case workers to therapists and mediators, to help the customer get the best possible result with the minimum stress.

Image of Jennifer Aniston by Angela George [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

A billionaire property developer whose business owns a number of prestigious properties in London’s West End, including the Trocadero, is seeking to protect his £1.1 billion fortune, by claiming in the High Court that he was never married to his ‘wife’ of 14 years.

Tagilde Aziz maintains that she married Asif Aziz in a Muslim ceremony of marriage in Malawi, in 2002. Unopposed divorce proceedings took place last year, and a decree nisi was pronounced in November. However, Mr Aziz is now seeking to have the decree rescinded, claiming that no marriage ceremony ever took place and that the parties’ marriage certificate was a fake, obtained by them to get a UK passport for a child they had informally adopted.

Mrs Aziz is seeking to rely upon the ‘presumption of marriage’. This states that where there is evidence of a ceremony of marriage having been gone through, followed by the cohabitation of the parties, the validity of the marriage will be presumed, in the absence of decisive evidence to the contrary. She says that the parties presented to the world as married for the totality of the period between 2002 and their separation, and that Mr Aziz is only claiming that they were not married in order to defeat her financial claims.

The case is being heard by Mr Justice Moor. Family Law Cafe look forward with interest to hearing his decision.

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Image: Trocadero, by Mario Sánchez Prada, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It was recently announced that the Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club, Roman Abramovich, is separating from his third wife, Dasha Zhukova. There is no word yet as to whether the couple intend to divorce, but the news has already led to speculation that this could be Mr Abramovich’s costliest divorce yet, and possibly the most expensive divorce in history.

Just how costly the divorce will be, if it goes ahead, will depend upon a number of factors. For example, his second wife, Irina, reportedly received a divorce settlement of $300 million in 2007, a sum that many consider could have been much higher if the divorce had happened in England rather than Russia, as the English divorce courts are generally considered to be more generous to wives than courts in other countries.

Another factor is whether the couple entered into a pre-nuptial agreement.

A pre-nuptial agreement is, as the name suggests, a written agreement entered into by the parties before they get married, although it is also possible to enter into an agreement after the marriage (a ‘post-nuptial’). The agreement will usually state what is to happen to the parties’ property in the event of them getting divorced. Pre-nuptial agreements are often used by parties to protect their assets, by saying that they will keep all or most of them after the divorce.

The approach of the courts in England and Wales to pre-nuptial agreements was set out by the Supreme Court in 2010. The Supreme Court held that the court should give effect to such agreements, where they are freely entered into by each party, with a full appreciation of the implications of the agreement, unless it would not be fair in the circumstances to hold the parties to the agreement, for example because it failed to meet the needs of one of the parties, or of any children. This means that most pre-nuptial agreements are likely to be upheld by the court, but the court will always have the last word.

If you want to have a pre-nuptial agreement drawn up, or if you want advice as to whether the court is likely to uphold a pre-nuptial agreement that you have entered into, then you will need the assistance of a specialist family lawyer. Family Law Cafe can help you find a specialist. You can call us on 020 3904 0506 or email us at

Image of Roman Abramovich’s yacht Eclipse docked in Nassau, by DCwom (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Office for National Statistics has published population estimates by marital status and living arrangements in England and Wales, from 2002 to 2016.

The main points were:

• There were 24.1 million people in England and Wales who were married in 2016; this was 50.9% of the population aged 16 and over.

• In 2016, around 0.2% of the married population were in a marriage between same-sex couples; a larger proportion of this population were male (57.7%) compared with female (42.3%).

• A larger percentage of the population in England (51.1%) were married in 2016 compared with Wales (50.1%).

• The majority (61.0%) of the population aged 16 and over in England and Wales were living in a couple in 2016.

The statistics also showed that the percentage of people aged 16 and over who are married has decreased over time, from 54.8% in 2002 to 50.9% in 2016. The percentage of people aged 16 and over who are single has increased in that period, from 29.6% in 2002 to 34.6% in 2016. This coincides with an increase in people cohabiting who are never married or civil partnered, as cohabitation has become more common as an alternative to marriage, especially at younger ages.

The ONS commented: “In England and Wales, being married continues to be the most common marital status for those age 16 and over in 2016. This is despite the proportion of the population who are married decreasing by 3.9 percentage points since 2002 and the proportion of the population who are single increasing. The population who are in a marriage between same-sex couples has more than doubled since 2015.”

You can read the statistical bulletin here.

Image: With this ring, by Evan Forester, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

If a same-sex couple wish to formalise their relationship then they have two options: to enter into a civil partnership, or to get married.

A civil partnership gives legal recognition to same-sex relationships, putting the civil partners in a similar legal position to married couples.

A civil partnership is formed by having the partnership registered. The formalities and procedure are not dissimilar to those for marriage.

Civil partnerships may be dissolved in the same way as marriages, save that the term ‘dissolution order’ is used instead of ‘divorce’. The grounds for a dissolution order are the same as for divorce, save that a civil partner may not rely upon adultery to prove that the civil partnership has broken down irretrievably. The procedure is similar to that for divorce.

As with marriage, civil partnerships can be annulled. It is also possible to obtain a ‘separation order’, which is the equivalent of judicial separation between spouses.

When a civil partnership is terminated, the court can make the same financial orders as it can when a marriage is terminated. The factors that the court takes into account when deciding what orders to make are similar, and the procedure is much the same.

Since March 2014 it has also been possible for same-sex couples to get married.

A same-sex marriage can be dissolved in the same way as an opposite-sex marriage. However, it should be noted that only conduct between the respondent to the divorce and a person of the opposite sex may constitute adultery for the purposes of divorce. Accordingly, if the respondent had sex with someone of the same sex that would not be adultery, although it would be unreasonable behaviour.

The court can make the same financial orders on the dissolution of a same-sex marriage as it can on the dissolution of an opposite-sex marriage.

For further advice contact Family Law Café by clicking the Contact link above and filling in the form, or by calling us on 020 3904 0506.

Image: Wedding Celebration, by Hotlanta Voyeur, licensed under CC BY 2.0.