Is the Law About to Start Recognising Cohabitees?


Recent figures by the Office for National Statistics have found that the numbers of people cohabiting have risen by 30% since 2004 – making it the fastest growing family type.

Is the law about to start recognising cohabitees?

Despite this, many misunderstandings still surround cohabitation. For example, as many as 51% believed that 'common law marriage' existed, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey in 2008. Because of this, people are failing to protect themselves financially should they one day split or if a partner dies.

Calls for Change

Currently in the UK, we have no defined law in place to protect cohabitants from financial hardship if they separate from their partner. This means that even couples who have lived together for many years lack any formal protection.

Resolution, a leading organisation of family lawyers, have consistently called for a change in the law. Steve Kirwan, who had led the organisation's work on reform has said:

"Ultimately, the law needs to reflect the standards of modern society, and in the case of cohabitation, it does not... The current law on cohabitation is in desperate need of change."

But this could be about to change as the Cohabitation Rights Bill is currently passing through parliament. If passed, it could allow cohabitees to make an application for a financial settlement after the relationship breaks down, and may provide inheritance rights if one partner dies without a Will.

How to Protect Yourself

Our Associate solicitor, Carol Chrisfield, is a member of Resolution and agrees that the law needs to respond to modern families. Until then, Carol suggests that cohabitation agreements could protect many couples:

"In my experience, people who live together rarely understand their legal rights. I would suggest that before any couple cohabit, they consider entering into an agreement so that they have security regarding what might happen on separation."

"There are also other ways to protect yourself without a cohabitation agreement. For example, we can help advise couples on Wills and property ownership if a couple are thinking of buying a home together. And if a couple are already cohabiting , we can advise on what can be done to protect each party, even if they have no intention of separating, as couples may also need advice to consider what will happen in the event of one person's death."

Our family law solicitors at Simpson Millar LLP will be able to advise you on your rights and any extra protections that could be afforded if you are cohabiting.

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