When it comes to family types in the UK, we have seen a striking departure from the traditional norms of nuclear family setups like married couples with children. Instead, there has been a marked shift towards cohabiting couples and people living alone.

Between the financial challenges of home ownership and an almost disillusioned attitude to the institution of marriage, there are plenty of reasons for the growing popularity of cohabitation and living alone. 

For the whole of the UK, it is evident that the number of cohabiting families is growing significantly faster than married couple families; the rate of growth for cohabiting families has increased by 25.8% over the last decade (according to ONS figures).

However, one area of the UK that really sticks out is the North East. This region shows significant signs of cohabitation growth and, in particular, increasing numbers of lone parent families. In this article, we’re going to break these numbers down. 

Minority family types in the North East

Before we move onto cohabitation, statistics provided by the Office For National Statistics show that lone parent and one person households are strikingly common in the region. 

Third highest number of lone parent families in the UK

UK-wide, the number of lone parent families with non-dependent children has risen by 17.5%, and the number of lone parent families has dropped by 9.8%. There are numerous reasons for this increase, and it’s probably due to separation at older ages as well as more young adults living with their parents.

These however, are not quite as significant as the numbers for the North East. 

The North East is the third highest region in the UK for lone parent families, with 17.8% of its population represented by lone parents with non-dependent children. The region is third behind London (19.1%) and Northern Ireland (18%). This addresses a wider shift away from the norms of marital tradition. The North East’s numbers are perhaps even more striking when you compare them to the national average across the country (14.9% according to figures). 

At almost 4% higher than the country combined, the North East has remarkable numbers of minority family types and, for such reasons, the rights of these families needs to be made clear.

Second highest number of one person households in the UK

This is perhaps the most striking finding. The national average for one person households across the UK is 29.5%, and the North East is second highest with 32.1% of its population accounting for one person households.

For the UK, the number of people living alone has increased by a fifth over the last two decades, increasing from 6.8 million in 1999 to 8.2 million in 2019. This shift is strongly represented by those living in the North East. 

Largest decrease in multi-family households

As we’ve said, the North East strongly exemplifies the way in which we tend to believe less in the institution of marriage and have become more accepting of alternative family setups. We look at all of this in the paragraphs above. 

However, one of the more peculiar findings were the multi-family household statistics. Multi-family households (consisting of two or more families) refer to the likes of duplexes, apartment blocks etc. and they are the fastest growing household type in the UK. However, ONS figures show that the largest decrease in multi-family households belongs to the North East. 

Cohabitation in the North East

The numbers of cohabiting couple families has grown from 15.3% of the UK population to 17.9% of the population – this amounts to 3.4 million people. As if this weren’t significant enough, 18.5% of the North East population are all cohabitees (ONS).

We’ve seen that the North East is largely an opportune area for alternative family setups, and the rate of cohabitation in this region is emblematic of a larger shift in attitude and societal thinking. 

However, despite the fact that cohabitation growth remains strong and consistent, there has been (and remains to be) a history of misunderstanding in relation to cohabitee rights. The myths that surround common law cohabitation have led many cohabitees to assume they have the same or similar rights as married couples, when in fact they do not. 

Given that cohabitation is on the rise, it’s vital that cohabitation rights are understood. Here are some key points:

  • People who are cohabiting do not have the same rights over their property as those who are married. 
  • This means that it is very difficult for cohabiting couples to make a claim on any of their assets if they separate.
  • Crucially, the overarching consequence of this is that cohabitees are not exempt from inheritance tax if one partner dies.

So, in the event that a cohabiting couple chooses to separate, they remain financially unprotected. They are also unable to apply for maintenance from their partner.

The solution is a written cohabitation agreement

In order for cohabiting couples to be protected (as well as minority family types who are likelier to cohabit), a legally airtight document is needed: a cohabitation agreement.

This is a document that forms the basis of an agreement between partners who live together and want to ensure full clarity and understanding with regard to their rights concerning property and children. This document also deals with things like debts as well as spousal support. Without a cohabitation agreement, separation for these groups is a far more problematic, messy, and distressing process than it would be for married couples. 

Cohabiting families in the North West (and UK-wide) need to enlist the services of established and trustworthy cohabitation solicitors to help guide the process lawfully and respectfully.

Without this kind of support, many more cohabitees could face financial hardship, not to mention a separation that is already stressful to begin with. Cohabitation continues to grow rapidly in the UK, and particularly in the North East. The solution is a cohabitation agreement, and a wider change in attitudes towards the myths of a ‘common law spouse’.