With more than 3.6 million cohabitating couples in the UK, they are the fastest-growing family type, and in 2022 they made up 18% of all families in the UK. Yet as it currently stands, those in a cohabiting relationship have very few legal rights when the relationship ends or if one partner dies.
Many couples live believing there is a “common law marriage”, however this is a myth and leaves them with little to no protection should the relationship end, or one cohabitee pass away without making a will. Unfortunately, people often find out too late that this “common law marriage” status does not exist and are left facing significant financial hardship regardless of the level of commitment shown, the length of the relationship or the birth of any children.
In light of the issues around cohabitation and the lack of protection for cohabitees, Emily Thornberry MP made an announcement at the Labour Party Conference 2023, that a Labour government would reform the law for cohabiting couples. This would give cohabitees increased rights to accessing financial support on the breakdown of their relationship and bring cohabiting couples types of protection similar to that enjoyed by married couples. It would also work to target those in cohabiting relationships where one partner earns significantly less than the other, and supporting those who feel trapped in their relationship as they are not financially secure enough to leave their partner.
The proposed reforms have been welcomed by many, including the Family Law Reform Group who have commented that “this is a hugely welcome development and one that should be welcomed by cohabiting couples, together with practitioners who see the significant financial hardship caused by our current, out of date law”. Resolution, a community of family justice professionals, have also welcomed the reforms adding that “the announcement is a step in the right direction and all parties will commit to reforming the law in this area, which is long overdue and currently leaves millions of couples at significant financial risk”.
Whilst the conversations around reforming the law on cohabitation continue, it is important for cohabiting couples to understand the limited legal protection they are afforded should their relationship end or their partner die. It is imperative that cohabiting couples obtain legal advice on their options to protect their assets and ensure their financial security, to prevent being left in a financially precarious situation. Please contact our Family Team on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form for more information and a member of our Team will be very happy to assist.