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The Women and Equalities Committee, formed of cross-party MP’s, called for urgent legal reform by the Government to tackle the uncertain rights of cohabitating couples. In August of this year, the Committee published a Report expressing their concerns with the lack of legal protection offered to cohabitating couples in the event of separation or death.
The Report highlighted the sharp increase of couples who live together, which in two decades has more than doubled to 3.6 million. Yet, the legal protections available to cohabitants are far inferior to the protection offer to married persons in respect of rights upon divorce or death. Even more worrying is the lack of awareness many cohabitants have as many mistakenly believe that after a period of living together they become ‘common law’ married.
The Report emphasised the areas of reform required to better protect cohabitants and their children and also the extent to which cohabitants should have the same rights as married and civil partnered couples. The Report concluded that it was vital that the law is reformed to ensure that cohabiting couples and their children are adequately safeguarded from financial hardship in the event of separation.
Early this month the Government published their response to the extensive Report urging for reform and rejected almost all of the proposals. One of the proposals ‘partially’ accepted was the need for public awareness of the legal distinctions between getting married, forming a civil partnership, and living together as cohabitants. The Department of Education has published guidance to schools for education of pupils on what marriage is, why marriage is an important relationship choice for many couples and the characteristics, and legal status of other types of long-term relationships. This existing guidance is deemed sufficient by the Government, even though there is no requirement that schools implement this guidance.
The Government’s rejection of proposals within The Women and Equalities Committee Report is greatly concerning for the current 3.6 million cohabitants, and any of their children. The future issues that they may face relating to assets, pensions, and financial loss remains without resolution.
The Government stated that whilst they are reviewing the current law on marriage and divorce, they cannot consider any reform of law in respect of cohabitation. This suggests that a reform of the law will not be a priority for some time.
At present, the only safeguard available to provide some protection to cohabitants and their children are cohabitation and separation agreements. These are written agreements that are entered into at the start of a period of co-habitation or at the end of a relationship. Cohabitation agreements can provide certainty for couples, potentially avoiding disputes later on if they break up. If you are choosing to live with your partner before getting married, our family law lawyers can help you agree and draft a cohabitation agreement. A separation agreement will determine the issues that the couple wish to decide on at the point of separation, including how the finances or property and assets should be divided now and, in the future, and also make arrangements for children or pets.
Our firm understand that cohabitants need to be protected. We can prepare an agreement which is tailored toward your individual circumstances.
Currently, we are offering a free initial telephone consultation with our family team for new enquires. During this call we will tell you whether we can help, and what we can do next to get started. Give our family solicitors, a call now for a friendly chat on 020 8735 9770 or email our family law department at email@example.com