Marriage vs cohabitation

Populus research conducted on behalf of Seddons shows that despite recent changes in marriage law in the UK, pre-nuptial and cohabitation agreements are still not part of most couples’ plans.

More couples than ever are now choosing to cohabit prior to, or even instead of, marriage. Despite the rising preference for cohabitation, a vast majority (72%) of couples have never discussed a cohabitation agreement, leaving them vulnerable should things go sour. 

For richer, for poorer

The media is not short of high-profile pre-nuptial agreements. However, in reality, such arrangements gain little attraction among modern couples, according to our research. Only 2% of married respondents report having entered into a pre-nuptial agreement.

A variety of reasons for this were cited, but the most common, given by over two in five (45%) of couples, was “being happy to keep to the traditional marriage system”. Meanwhile, over a third (38%) of couples said the thought of entering into a pre-nup had never crossed their mind.

The modern way

Couples are routinely shying away from discussing matters such as what happens should they split. The evidence shows that just 13% have discussed making a formal commitment by way of marriage or civil partnership with a prenup. One in five (22%) had discussed marriage or civil partnership, but without discussing a prenup.

Only a minority (5%) of couples having formally agreed as to how they would split their belongings following a break up. While one in eight (13%) had informally discussed the subject, the vast majority, 72% had never discussed having a cohabitation agreement.

Deborah Jeff, Partner and Head of the Family Department at Seddons, says:

“Despite the increasing public references to prenuptial agreements – particularly amongst high-net worth individuals – our research has found that for the vast majority of people pre-nups are not a part of their relationship planning.  There is a lack of understanding of how important a prenuptial agreement may be and its enforceability now in English law.  Provided the agreement is properly prepared, fair and all reasonable needs are met, they can be of magnetic importance and extremely persuasive if a marriage ends in divorce.  They also demonstrate to a court that from the outset of a marriage the parties had decided for themselves how their finances should be divided.

“What is worrying from our research, is the number of cohabiting couples that have not put in place a cohabitation agreement. This reinforces concerns that many unmarried couples who live together are unaware of their rights if the relationship breaks down, with some mistakenly relying on the myth of the common law marriage. With increasing numbers of couples living together before or instead of entering into marriage or civil partnership, it is likely we will see more disputes over the division of assets following separation.”

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Populus interviewed a Nationally Representative sample of 2,087 UK adults aged 18+ from its online panel from the 19th-21st January 2018. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For more details go to