The Office for National Statistics confirmed that in 2015 there were just under 3.2 million cohabiting couples in the UK. Despite the fact that more and more couples are now choosing to live together but not to marry, the law has yet to catch up with the trend in cohabitation. The law relating to cohabiting couples as it currently stands is inadequate when dealing with the dynamics of a separating couple, especially when they have children together.
Resolution is an association of over 6,000 family lawyers who believe in a constructive, non-confrontational approach to family law matters. Resolution also works for improvements to the family justice system. Resolution has been campaigning for reform of the law relating to cohabitants for many years because of the widespread ignorance and injustice encountered by its family lawyer members. Resolution believes that injustice is caused by the confusing and complex rules of property and trust law and the requirement to look back at what has been said and done by a couple during their relationship rather than at what is fair at the time of separation. Resolution says the law should be clear and reasonably predictable whereas the law as it currently stands increases the distress of relationship breakdown and does not produce fair outcomes.
Resolution has decided to hold a Cohabitation Awareness Week from 27th November to 1st December 2017 to help dispel the myth of the “common law marriage” and alert people to the difference in legal rights between married and unmarried couples, and what steps an unmarried couple can take to record the interest and rights of each partner in the event of separation.
There have, over the years, been various consultations regarding changing the law to provide greater legal protection for unmarried couples upon separation. A private members bill was introduced to parliament by Lord Marks for the third time in July 2017 but no date has been set for the second reading. The intention of the bill is to enable former cohabitants, who have lived together for at least two years or who have a child together, to apply to the court for a financial settlement where. A claim can be made where, as a result of the relationship, one party retains a financial advantage or where one party suffers an economic disadvantage. The bill also strives to extend the same financial provision to cohabitants as is currently made for spouses or civil partners on their partner’s death.
The bill faces opposition from those who believe that it will undermine the institution of marriage. Additionally, there is opposition from those who believe some cohabitants have decided not to marry or enter into a civil partnership intentionally as they want to protect their assets built up prior to the relationship and the proposed bill would disregard those who choose not to marry or enter a civil partnership for this reason.
If you are planning to move in with your partner, are currently in a cohabiting relationship or if you were in a cohabitating relationship which has broken down, please contact us for advice about your situation. All of the family lawyers at Lightfoots LLP are members of Resolution.