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According to Resolution, figures recently published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the current law is failing cohabiting families.

Resolution, an organisation of 6,500 family lawyers committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes, who campaign for improvements to the family justice system, point to ONS statistics which show that cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK, having more than doubled from 1.5m families twenty years ago to 3.3m in 2016.

However, during the same period the Law has not changed to protect cohabiting families on separation. Instead, separating couples continue to have to rely on a combination of land and trust law which is complicated and not set up to deal with quasi-marital relationships. As Resolution say:

“Under current cohabitation law it’s possible to live with someone for decades and even to have children together and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner when the relationship breaks down. This can have a huge impact on women and children, particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her work to raise a family”.

This situation is of course not just restricted to women, as men who live with a partner can equally be disadvantaged on relationship breakdown if they have no financial interest in the family home. 

Although this is an issue that is now relevant to more people than ever before, it would appear that much of the population remain unaware of this, with research by the charity One Plus One suggesting that 47% of the population believe that cohabitants have the same rights as married couples on separation by what is referred to as ‘common law marriage’.

Ultimately there may be a change in the Law to protect cohabiting couples. However, what this will look like and when it will happen is anyone’s guess. Cohabiting couples can and should protect themselves now by entering into Cohabitation/Living Together Agreements or by Deeds of Trust in respect of property.

Chattertons’ team of Specialist Family Law Solicitors are able to advise you of your options whether you’re just entering into a relationship and wish to protect your assets, or are looking for advice on the breakdown of your relationship.