Marriage is dead: money implications

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Brits have given up on getting married. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that only 48.4% of adults are now married, after more than 40 years of decline in the institution.

So what is behind the trend, and what does it mean for you and your money?

Career

There is a big rise in the number who have never married - which has doubled in the last 40 years. The latest figures show that one in three women have never married. This is perhaps not surprising, as we are seeing a generation where women work hard at their education and leave university to get a job. They may move around the country or the world, and aren't in a big rush to settle down.

Some people have interpreted these figures as meaning women have decided never to marry, because they are far too busy to bother with a husband and babies. However, the alternative is that they know they need to get established in their career early on, and that marriage and children will effectively send them into the financial wilderness for a decade, potentially leaving them wholly reliant on their partner for money. They're not writing it off, they just want to be in senior enough position to return when their family has grown without having to start from scratch again.

Affordability

There are plenty of people who say they cannot afford to get married because they need to set up in a home together, and then they need to save for a family. Of course, this isn't really true as a wedding can cost little more than a wet weekend in a B&B. However, there's a question over whether the myth of the big white wedding is so much a part of our consciousness that we'd feel a failure with anything else - or whether it's just a really handy excuse.

Divorce

Of course, there are also plenty of people who have divorced. Again traditionalists will tell you this is a failure of modern society to recognise the significance of a life-long commitment. However, there are those who would point out that 10 years of a happy marriage and then 40 years of putting up with someone you loathe for the sake of conformity is not necessarily something to be celebrated.

Money matters

But while the debate rages about why people aren't getting married and whether there is such a bad thing, it's worth getting to grips with the implications for your finances.

If you have a long-term partner you need to consider the property you own. Are you both on the deeds and the mortgage? If not, in the event of a split the couple with no formal ownership of the house could be left high and dry. There is always a legal process and there are arguments that could give them a slice of the property, but the whole things can get very messy and expensive. A key ruling by the Supreme Court (which overruled a Court of Appeal judgement) in early November decided that Leonard Kernott was entitled to 10% of the £245,000 Essex property he had shared with his wife. The original Court of Appeal order judged that the ice-cream salesman, who had left his partner nearly 20 years ago, was entitled to half of the value of the house they had bought together and shared for eight years. So it's clear there's still a lack of clarity about unmarried couples, property and assets.

One of you may pay more into the mortgage, but do you have a formal agreement in place about how much of the property you officially own? Because these things tend to get so messy, it's worth thinking carefully about drawing up a cohabitation agreement that makes your intentions clear.

Even if you stay together for life, you need to think how you own the property. If one person's chunk of the property is worth more than the inheritance tax threshold, then when one of you dies, the other may have to pay inheritance tax (currently 40%) on the chunk being passed to them. If they die without a will there's a chance that portion may not even be passed to them if they are tenants-in-common rather than joint tenants. It's worth being clear about what you want, and make sure the way the property is owned and shared reflects that. You also need to make a will and ensure it is kept up to date.
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