There are over 3 million people living together in the UK as cohabiting couples according to the Office of National Statistics . Cohabiting couples are in fact the fastest growing family type. However there is currently very little if any legal protection for such couples if their relationship breaks down.
Society has changed dramatically over the last 30 years and, for a number of reasons, increasing numbers of couples in the UK decide not to marry. Many countries, including Scotland, Canada and Australia, now provide specific legal protection for cohabiting couples, however the law in England and Wales is yet to be modernised in this way.
Despite some people believing in the concept of a ‘common law marriage’, this has not existed in England and Wales since 1753. The law affecting cohabiting couples on relationship breakdown effectively treats them as unrelated individuals; it takes no account of their relationship, nor does it seek to achieve fairness as an outcome.
Resolution is a national group of family lawyers who are committed to resolving family disputes in a constructive and non-confrontational way. It has long been Resolution’s view that cohabiting couples need some basic rights to protect them should their relationship end. Over the years, there have been various consultations looking at changing the law to provide greater protection for unmarried, separating couples. To date there has been little progress.
From 27 November – 1 December 2017, Resolution is holding a National Awareness Raising Week to increase public awareness of the lack of rights for unmarried couples living together. As part of Cohabitation Awareness Week, Resolution has joined with a range of organisations in calling for more legal protection for cohabiting couples when they separate.
Last year, Resolution’s awareness week focussed on ‘no fault divorce’ in which they campaigned for a change in divorce law to remove the blame element. Over 50 MPs were spoken with on Lobby Day and the story also featured on a number national and local television and radio news stations. It is hoped that the same level of awareness can be driven this year.
All our family solicitors are members of Resolution, meaning that we are committed to constructive, non-confrontational resolutions of family disputes, and we fully support Resolution’s Cohabitation Awareness Week initiative.
We want couples to stay together, but it is always worth taking precautions to protect yourself and your future. Until the law changes, cohabiting couples need to be aware of their rights, or rather lack of rights, and consider taking what measures they can take to protect themselves and avoid complex and costly disputes in the event that the relationship breaks down. One example is a cohabitation agreement, which sets out what will happen to the property and finances if the worst happens. Other things to consider include declarations of trust and wills, dealing with property ownership and inheritances.
Our team of family law specialists deals with matters in a practical, clear and supportive way. If you would like to understand more about the rights for cohabiting couples and what you might be able to do to protect your interests, you can get in touch with them on 01892 510000.