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Experts call for cohabitation law reform

Family lawyers say that the current legal system does too little to protect people who live with a partner.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, one in eight adults in England and Wales is unmarried and living with a partner.

Jo Edwards, chair of family law organisation Resolution, said on 9 July: “Cohabitation is the fastest growing type of relationship in the country.

“Despite this, the law doesn’t give people in this type of relationship any meaningful legal protection if they separate or if one of them dies.

“Too often I see people who are separating from their live-in partner, who come to me looking for help in accessing what they regard as being their fair share of the assets. All too often I have to tell them that they have no rights whatsoever.

“Even if one partner has given up work to care for children, or has contributed by supporting their partner in their career by running the home, often their contributions will not be recognised in law, especially if the children have already grown up and left home; and they end up in a very difficult situation when the relationship comes to an end. This is often compounded by a mistaken belief that unmarried couples have rights as ‘common law’ spouses, in fact not correct.

“Resolution would like to see the introduction of some form of legal protection for cohabitants to secure fair outcomes at the time of a couple’s separation or on the death of one partner.

“We don’t propose that cohabiting be treated the same as marriage. Under our proposals, cohabitants meeting eligibility criteria indicating a committed relationship would have a right to apply for certain financial orders if they separate. This right would be automatic unless the couple chooses to ‘opt out’.”