2024 is a Leap Year! According to Irish traditions, women are allowed to propose to their suitors on February 29, the day that only comes once every four years.

But is the practice outdated with marriage continuing to decline in popularity and the way we view relationships constantly changing? There have been renewed calls for laws and structures in England and Wales to reflect the changing realities. Certainly, in 2024, a woman doesn’t need to feel limited to propose to her partner in accordance with an outdated legend.

The Office for National Statistics recently revealed data on the changing status of relationships in England and Wales, with marriage rates of people aged 16+ dropping below 50% (to 49.4%) since comparable records began.

We are seeing a rapid diversification in the way families are built and grown, whether this be cohabitation, single parenthood, blended families, or even platonic co-parenting which, whilst a relatively new phenomenon, is certainly finding its place in society.

Cohabitation is now the norm and has been the fastest growing family type in England and Wales for several years. There is an ever-increasing number of couples who are actively deciding to not get married or enter a civil partnership but are living together without any legal status.

Many couples are under the impression that they have become common law husband and wife and are therefore entitled to the same kind of settlement as a married couple when they split up but the reality is very different. If you were cohabiting your claims are limited to property claims and claims on behalf of your children.

Family lawyers have renewed their calls for cohabitation reform in response to these statistics, and it is certainly an area that needs examining. The Cohabitation Rights Bill entered Parliament in 2019 and aims to give cohabiting couples the same rights as married couples if they have lived together for at least three years or have a child together.

However, this Bill has faced several delays and is making slow progress through Parliament.

At the Labour Party Conference in October 2023, MP Emily Thornberry announced Labour’s Commitment to cohabitation reform should they win a general election. The focus would be on putting protective measures in place for to prevent people being trapped in unhappy or abusive relationships without the protection of law.