London: Couples who live together before getting married could be helping to lower divorce rates, a new research has suggested.

International studies have suggested that couples are more likely to separate if they live together first, compared with those who move in only after their wedding.

But the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said cohabitation could be seen as 'promoting rather than competing with marriage.'

"There has been a decline in recent years in the proportion of marriages ending in separation or divorce by the fifth anniversary," daily quoted a report as saying.

"We suggest as a hypothesis that the growth of cohabitation may have played a role in this incipient decline," the report added.

Researchers believe that cohabitation could be acting as a 'firewall' to stop unstable relationships ending in divorce years later.

"This could be so if cohabitation acted as a kind of marital firewall, keeping out of the married population couples whose relationship is more fragile," the report said.

"More cohabiting couples separate without marrying, and fewer marry, than two decades ago. Cohabitation remains a relatively short term type of relationship," the report added.