There is no doubt that the trend away from marriage continues balanced by the rise of cohabitation. Married couples are now in the minority with more and more couples choosing to cohabit.
It is therefore of increasing concern that there is still no legal protection in place for cohabitees in the event their relationship breaks down. Contrary to popular belief there is no such thing as 'common law marriage' and the laws which do apply to cohabitees are complicated and old fashioned. This can leave people in real difficulties on separation particularly where there is a significant imbalance of financial power in a relationship; for example where one party is the homemaker and the other takes the role of breadwinner. Whilst there are protections in place for the benefit of any children in those circumstances the financially weaker party will have no financial claims of their own save in relation to any jointly held assets.
There is general agreement in the legal profession that something must be done to provide some protection given the shift away from marriage towards cohabitation. To date there has been a reluctance to push this forward and put new laws in place. The latest Cohabitation Rights Bill 2014 has just had its first reading in the House of Lords and there is likely to be increasing pressure for this to progress quickly. Undoubtedly, the protections offered will be far less than those in place for married couples.
For anyone planning to cohabit they should carefully consider entering into a cohabitation agreement in order to deal with both the terms of cohabitation and also what will happen in the event of separation. Cohabitants should also take informed advice if the relationship is coming to an end to ensure that they get the right advice at an early stage.
If you would like to speak to someone regarding these issues please contact a member of the family team.This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.