The Cohabitation Rights Bills is currently being debated in the House of Lords. On a recent survey carried out by YouGov of more than 2000 adults 51% of women think they share all the same rights as married couples when cohabiting compared with 42% of men. Cohabitation between couples is increasing, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) there is a total of more than two million cohabitees. There is no such thing as a common law marriage. The Cohabitation Rights Bill is to provide certain protection for persons living together or who have lived together as a couple and to make provision about the property of the deceased person who is survived by a cohabitant.
In the current debate in the House of Lords, Baroness Deech speaks against the bill saying “It would reduce people’s willingness to commit long term and it would increase the stress of couple breakdown – to the significant detriment of children.” However, Baroness Butler-Sloss speaks forcibly in favour of the bill drawing on the experience of her long career as a family judge. She says she has been married for 56 years and is a strong supporter of marriage and she does not see that this bill is an attack on marriage.
The law is clearly in need of reform. This bill goes some way towards providing cohabitees and their children with some protection in the event that their relationship breaks down. Resolution, an organisation that trains specialist family lawyers, supports the bill. The ONS shows one in eight adults in England and Wales are unmarried and living with a partner. Resolution released a manifesto this year calling on the government to reform the law on cohabitation.
I acted for a lady who had been living with her partner for 30 years and on separation I had to explain to her that she had no legal rights. She found it difficult to understand why she couldn’t share in the assets that had been built up during their relationship by her partner. One person can look after the home and bring up their children yet if they separate they can find themselves in the position of not being able to claim against capital, income or pension. The ‘common law spouse’ is not recognised in English law yet but a high percentage of the population believe that it is. Under the present bill couples will still have an option to opt out of claims. The law is clearly in need of reform and this bill if passed by Parliament, will go some way towards providing some protection for cohabitees.