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Rise in co-habiting parents

Despite the fall in the marriage rate in recent years, and the overall decline of births within marriage since the 1960s, marriage or civil partnership remain the most common family circumstances for births in England and Wales.
According to figures recently released by the Office of National Statistics, more than half of births occurred within marriage or civil partnerships in 2014 (the statistics do not distinguish between the two). However, rates of birth within marriage are falling and within a few years this is no longer expected to be the case.
In 2014, 53% of births took place within marriage, compared with 58% ten years earlier and 93% in 1964.
There is significant variation according to age group. The vast majority of women under 20 (96%) who gave birth were not in a legally recognised partnership. By contrast, two-thirds of women in the 30–39 age range gave birth within marriage or a civil partnership.
The decline of births within marriage follows the rise of cohabitation as an increasingly preferred form of relationship. Statistics for cohabiting couples having children have to be inferred from the addresses of father and mother given when registering a birth. Of all births in 2014, 32% occurred within a cohabiting relationship. In 1986, the first year that such figures were available, the proportion was just 10%.
The complexity and diversity of family relationships is shown by further statistics suggestingthat 5.4% of births were registered by the mother alone, implying single parenthood (which has declined from 7.1% in 2004), but a further 10% were jointly registered by couples living at separate addresses.
There is a pervasive misunderstanding that cohabiting couples have the same legal rights as those in a marriage or civil partnership – the idea of so-called common law marriage. However, this is not the case and there may be serious implications for custody of children, property ownership and financial settlement in the event of a separation.

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