Unwed couples 'do not deserve' rights married have: poll
Couples living together in Northern Ireland don't deserve the same legal rights as those who are married, new research claims.
This is the view of 83% of solicitors in this country - compared with 60% of those polled in the rest of the UK.
Grant Thornton's eighth matrimonial survey canvassed the opinions of 101 leading matrimonial lawyers across the UK.
Break-ups which cite an extramarital affair as the primary cause have dropped to their lowest level in eight years, and have been overtaken by couples stating they have simply fallen out of love.
Only 19% of lawyers in Northern Ireland viewed extramarital affairs as the top reason for divorce, with 29% claiming the main cause was couples growing apart.
And when asked: "Do you you think cohabiting couples should be given the same legal rights as married couples?", 83% of the Ulster practices polled replied: "No".
The survey question did not define whether or not those who have entered into a civil partnership should be regarded as married, but experts at Grant Thornton believe the results reflect enduring conservative views in Northern Ireland.
Sally Longworth, Partner at Grant Thornton's Forensic and Investigations services practice, said: "The solicitors we polled in Northern Ireland, of all the UK regions, were the most overwhelming against cohabiting couples being entitled to the legal rights afforded to those who are married."
Adrienne Stewart, a matrimonial solicitor at Fox and Stewart Solicitors in Cookstown, disagreed with the majority of the survey respondents.
"If it's an established relationship, as a solicitor, I would treat any couple the same as we would a married couple. I have a number of cases at the moment involving couples who are not married."
Co-habitants in Northern Ireland are now given legal protection in several areas. However, they and their families have significantly fewer rights and responsibilities than their married counterparts. Co-habiting couples are advised to seek legal advice for steps to protect themselves in the case of separation.