We’re marrying more and divorcing less – but why?

When we talk about divorce it’s often in the context of the rising numbers of people going through the process. However, the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics indicate that the number of divorces in the UK has actually fallen in recent years. The most up to date statistics come from 2015 when there were 101,055 divorces among same sex couples. That’s a drop of 9.1% compared with the year before. Interestingly, the figures came at the same time as a rise in the number of couples choosing to get married. So, is the institution of marriage getting stronger or is there another factor in play?

More people are getting married – that’s a fact

The rate of marriages in the UK has spent the past few decades declining steadily. However, in 2010, for the first year in a very long time, the figures started to go the other way. From a low of 232,000 marriages a year in 2009, the figures climbed to 244,000 in 2010, 249,000 in 2011 and 262,000 in 2012. At the same time, the divorce rate has started to decline so that we now have the largest gap between the number of divorces and the number of marriages in the UK for quite some time.

The impact of cohabitation

Key to the drop in the divorce rate is the increase in the numbers of cohabiting couples. The number of families headed by cohabiting couples has risen by a significant 30% in the last 10 years. The idea of ‘living in sin’ has been consigned to the past where it belongs and more people now feel free to live together without the need to get married to do it. There’s no doubt that this has resulted in fewer marriages and – as a result – fewer divorces. Experts have speculated that the current figures might indicate that the UK has been through a wave of divorces with those couples, who perhaps would not have married in the first place, splitting up – and now the marriages that take place are better intentioned.

Cohabitation vs. marriage

For every couple there is the decision to make between simply cohabiting or making it official via marriage or a civil partnership. Although the emotional costs of splitting up are very much the same whether you’re legally bound or not, the practical implications are very different.


  • No need for an official divorce – you can go your separate ways at any time
  • Only mothers and their husbands automatically have parental responsibility for children. So, unmarried fathers or same sex partners won’t necessarily automatically have a say in what happens to children unless steps are taken to obtain parental responsibility
  • Unmarried partners of a tenant have no right to stay in a rented home if asked to leave
  • Cohabiting property owners may both have rights to remain in a home, depending how it is owned


  • You can separate informally but a formal end to the marriage means going to court
  • Both parents automatically have parental responsibility for children
  • Wills need to be updated if you’re divorcing – should you die without a will while still legally married your (ex)partner inherits
  • Married tenants both have a right to stay in the matrimonial home no matter whose name is on the tenancy
  • Married partners both have a right to remain in a matrimonial home, regardless of who owns it and who is paying the mortgage

These are just a few of the differences to consider if you want to make the right decision about marriage or cohabiting – and stay out of the negative statistics. For more information on the conditions and consequences of both please get in touch.