Improving Legal Protections for Unmarried Couples | Family Law
As the number of cohabiting couples in the UK continues to increase (latest statistics show that there were 3.6 million cohabiting couples last year compared to 1.5 million in 1996), the Government is under increasing pressure to improve legal protections for unmarried couples by introducing a scheme proposed by the Law Commission 15 years ago.
MP’s who are part of the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee are now urging the Government to introduce an opt-out cohabitation scheme, which was originally proposed by the Law Commission in a report from 2007. The proposed scheme would apply to couples that had lived together for a specified amount of time or who have a child together and would seek to provide economically vulnerable members of society with private means to rebuild their lives after a relationship breakdown and ensure a fairer division of assets.
What Does the Proposed Cohabitation Scheme Involve?
In a report published in early August 2022, the Committee said the proposed scheme offered a ‘pragmatic approach’ for reforming cohabitation law. The scheme wouldn’t just protect economically vulnerable eligible cohabitants, but also preserve individual autonomy and provide a distinction with marriage and civil partnership. It would also outline who actually qualifies as a cohabitant, as there’s no actual legal definition of a cohabitee in England and Wales. The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee is now pushing for the Government to publish draft legislation for scrutiny in the 2023-24 Parliamentary Session.
As experts in family law, Vines Legal welcomes the proposed changes. The fact that cohabiting couples are on the rise and the current law offers almost no protection is a clear indication that the legal system needs to keep up with modern life. Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type according to official figures, and the level of protection they receive legally needs to be updated to reflect this. Until this happens however, there are ways and means of protecting yourself as part of an unmarried couple. Here’s what you need to know.
What Legal Protection do Unmarried Couples Currently Have?
It’s a common misconception that cohabiting couples automatically form a so called ‘common law marriage’ and are therefore granted some sort of protection. Sadly, this is incorrect, and as the law stands at the moment, there’s no legal definition of a cohabitee. This means that the persons involved are still considered individuals in the eyes of the law, despite sharing a home. This includes an absence of maintenance rights, rights to their partner’s pension, and automatic inheritance; unless, of course, you have made a will.
How Can I Protect Myself as Part of an Unmarried Couple?
If you and your partner live together but for whatever reason, marriage isn’t on the cards, it is still perfectly possible to protect your rights, despite the current law. A Cohabitation Agreement is a good way to offer you some protection, and of course, peace of mind. You may wish to buy a property together, and perhaps have children, so it makes sense to think about your financial circumstances and consider your wishes in the event that a dispute or separation ever did arise.
Cohabitation Agreements can be drawn up to cover the financial aspects of a couple’s relationship whilst they are cohabiting. For example, this increasingly common legal document can be useful for a couple who are choosing to buy a property and intend to formalise who will pay certain bills or debts, or when drawing up what shares in the property the individuals will hold. Cohabitation Agreements are also a sensible idea if the couple chooses to have children. And, in the event of a separation, Cohabitation Agreements are a good way to protect both parties financially.
As experts in Cohabitation Agreements, Vines Legal can provide expert advice and expertise on the matter. For a free initial consultation with our specialist family lawyers, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01246 555610.
By Vines Legal on 15 Aug 2022, 11:55 AM