Cohabitation Rights Bill gathers pace in the House of Lords

Published: 16th December 2014

The Cohabitation Rights Bill is gathering pace and is now at the Committee Stage, following its second reading in the House of Lords.

The draft bill, introduced by Lib Dem peer Lord Marks, was commissioned in October 2013 to protect cohabiting couples by giving them similar rights to married couples, should their relationships break down and they decide to separate.

Under the draft Cohabitation Rights Bill, cohabiting couples that qualify would have similar legal rights to those who are married, but with the option to 'opt out' of the new system if they have sought independent legal advice.

Cohabiting couples would qualify for the new system if they have lived together for two years or more as a couple or if they have children together.

The draft Bill would ensure that cohabiting couples would have the right to make an application to the court for a financial settlement order if the applicant has made a contribution resulting in them being at a disadvantage or if the respondent retains a benefit and is within two years of separation - as is currently used during divorce proceedings.

The only other alternative to this would be to allow cohabiting heterosexual couples to enter into a civil partnership, however, so far, this concept has been rejected by the government. Only last week, we reported on a story of a cohabiting couple that are challenging the ban on civil partnerships for members of the opposite sex.

There have been many public supporters of the Cohabitation Rights Bill to give greater protection to cohabiting couples, including national family law organisation Resolution. Whilst they believe that the draft Bill is a huge step in the right direction towards a reform of the law, they believe that even more can be done to protect the rights of cohabiting couples.

"Ultimately, the law needs to reflect the standards of modern society, and in the case of cohabitation, it does not. More couples are living together than ever before, with an estimated 2,859,000 cohabiting households in Britain – that’s a significant portion of the country who are currently served by outdated and unfair laws", said Resolution's head of Cohabitation Law, Steve Kirwan.

"The current law on cohabitation is in desperate need of change and we believe that even Lord Marks’ bill, whilst welcome, does not go far enough to address the inequality in the current system."

Resolution have even gone as far as proposing their own ideas for change to current cohabitation law. Under their proposals, Resolution want child care costs to be included, so that the primary care giver doesn't have to give up work to look after their child. They see this as a 'major obstacle' for separating cohabiting families and in some cases, even be a contributing factor to state poverty and dependence. The Resolution Manifesto on cohabitation law is expected to be released early in 2015.

Resolution aren't the only public backers of reform to cohabitation law. In a blog post from last month, we reported that two high profile names in family law had given their support for a reform.

Sir James Munby, head of the Family Division said, "Reform is desperately needed - has been desperately needed for at least 40 years. Thus far governments have failed to act. Reform is inevitable. It is inconceivable that society will not right this injustice in due course."

Senior Judge Sir Nicholas Mostyn also expressed concerns for cohabiting couples, saying in a recent speech, "It is not the role of the state, in my humble opinion, to go round telling people how they should form their relationships. I do not support two classes of adjudication depending on whether there happens to be a marriage, I support the extension of the existing system of judicial equitable distribution to the unmarried, warts and all."

Whilst the Cohabitation Rights Bill is still progressing through parliament, it is important for cohabiting couples to understand the current legislation in place and that they are not protected by the myth of 'common-law' marriage.

Cohabiting couples are advised to seek professional legal advice on a variety of matters throughout their relationship, including the joint purchase of any property or assets or if they are thinking of starting a family - and not just in the event of separation.

If you are currently cohabiting with your partner and you need clarification on your legal rights then the team at K J Smith Solicitors are here to help. Our family law experts have a wealth of experience in dealing with both cohabitation agreements (which help to protect unmarried couples who are living together) and cohabitation disputes (for cohabiting couples that have decided to separate).

For more information or to arrange a free consultation with a member of our team, contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley-on-Thames), 020 7070 0330 (Central London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor) or 01256 584000 (Basingstoke).

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