Reform of Cohabitation Law

Written by Hayley Coyne

After much consideration of the cohabitation law within the Houses of Parliament and whether the same needs reform, the Government has now rejected all recommendations.

At the current time, couples who simply live together as partners, or cohabit, do not have the same basic legal rights and protection as they would do if they were married or within a civil partnership. Upon separation, cohabitants have to rely on property, contract and trust law to determine a financial settlement. There is no automatic right to an interest in the family home upon separation if you do not already have a legal interest in it. This is archaic and outdated when in today’s society, the number of cohabiting couples is increasing and, in 2021, 3.6 million couples were cohabiting. This was an increase of 22.9% from 2011 to 2021.

In August 2022, the Women and Equalities Select Committee produced a report proposing several reforms which would update the law and bring it in line with twenty first century ideologies. The recommendations included an ‘opt-out’ scheme which, would provide vulnerable individuals with protections whilst, allowing those who did wish to keep financial ties separate the ability to do so. The Committee also recommended that the government launch a public information campaign to highlight the differences between marriage, civil partnership and cohabitation. This would be with the aim of “busting the myth” of the common law marriage.

The report found that one of the largest issues was the misconception that cohabiting couples gain equal rights to those who are married or in a civil partnership. It was found 46% of people believed that there was a “common law marriage”.

There are no rights that are acquired through a “common law marriage”. The term is simply another way of saying a couple who live together.

It was hoped that the recent update to the divorce/civil partnership law, removing the need to demonstrate fault on the other party, would encourage the proposed reforms to be implemented. The Government’s rejection, therefore, has been highly criticised, with concern for the vulnerable individuals who remain in a position of risk due to the lack of rights that cohabiting couples have. It is understood however, that the campaign will continue in the hopes of achieving fairness for those most vulnerable.

If you have any questions concerning separation after cohabitation, please contact one of our family lawyers (Margaret Baker, Kay Levene, Leanne Weatherill, Darren Francis, Debbie Roper Hayley Coyne, or Michelle Holt).

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