Data from the Office for National Statistics released this week showed that divorce rates in England and Wales were at their lowest level since 1974. The figures revealed that there were 113,949 divorces in 2009 compared with 121,708 the previous year. These figures represent the sixth consecutive year of falling divorce rates and a 6.4% reduction from 2008 figures.

Although these figures indicate that there is a trend for fewer couples filing for divorce, what is not reflected is the fact that marriage rates in the UK are also at a low. The high cost of weddings and the changing views of society regarding marriage mean that couples are prolonging engagements, or even making a conscious choice not to marry, opting for long-term co-habitation instead.

In the eyes of the law of course, co-habiting couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples or civil partners. Those who cohabit long-term need to be aware of their legal rights and should consider entering into a cohabitation agreement to protect their interests should they ever separate.

One trend we are also seeing as family law solicitors is people delaying the start of divorce proceedings due to the poor state of the economy and the housing market.  That is not to say that couples are not separating or splitting up, but just that they are prolonging staying together so that they do not lose out financially.

People also often have misconceptions about the cost of obtaining a divorce. Whilst we have seen a rise in the court fees to file for divorce, which unfortunately is out of our control, family law solicitors are now more frequently providing alternative solutions outside of court proceedings, such as collaborative law, which can often prove a cheaper and quicker route.

If you need any advice relating to divorce or your rights regarding cohabitation, don’t hesitate to contact me or a member of the family law team.