Fewer than one in three marriage ceremonies in Britain are held in a church, new figures have revealed.
Only 30 per cent of weddings hosted in 2012 were religious ceremonies, according to a study from Oxford University statistician John Haskey.
The collapse of the aspiration to have a traditional church wedding is linked to the rise in cohabitation, the decline in allegiance to churches, and the popularity of weddings staged in place such as stately homes or football grounds, according to the study.
“The growth in marriages in approved premises has largely been at the expense of religious marriages – and also, to some extent, of register office marriages,” said Mr Haskey.
“Although the change in the law allowing couples to marry in approved premises quickened the fall in traditional church weddings, the decline had already started in the 1970s – the start of a period of enormous social upheaval.
“Since then there have been large changes in sexual and partnership behaviour, with rates of divorce, cohabitation, pre-marital cohabitation and births outside marriage all rising considerably.
“Together with growing secularisation, these factors probably reinforced the trend towards civil marriage.”
In 2011, 53 per cent of marriages took place in buildings such as hotels and castles.
The calculation of the extent of pre-marital cohabitation throws new light on the spread of and popularity of living together outside marriage, which has become increasingly common since the start of the 1980s.
Official figures suggest there are almost three million cohabiting couples in the country.
Mr Haskey, a former head of the family division of the Office for National Statistics, and now an Oxford University researcher, compared marriage statistics for 2007 with the numbers of couples where the bride and groom both gave the same address before their wedding.
Overall, 81 per cent of weddings involved a couple who had lived together. Among those marrying for the first time, 78 per cent had cohabited. Among couples where at least one of the partners had been divorced, 87 per cent were living together.
The breakdown showed that two-thirds of couples who married in church had been living together before the wedding.
The likelihood that couples lived together before their wedding was lowest among minority groups.
“These statistics show rapidly changing attitudes to marriage,” says Neil Denny, Lincoln based divorce lawyer with Diane Genders Solicitors. “With those changing attitudes come changing requirements as well.
“Couples who cohabit, for example, need to know that their rights to property and provision at the end of the relationship are very different to how they would be if they were married. There is no such thing as common law man or wife.
“We also continue to see more people looking to prepare agreements if the relationship does not last. Pre-nuptial and cohabitation agreements are becoming increasingly common.”
If you have any questions about cohabitation rights or pre-nuptial agreements then telephone Diane Genders Solicitors in Lincoln on 01522 516500 and ask to speak to one of our divorce lawyers.