Published: 5 November 2014
Over the past few weeks, a wave of support has been building for reforms to current cohabitation law so that couples who are unmarried are treated fairly if their relationship breaks down and they separate in the future.
There have been some high profile names in family law who have given their backing to the reform, including senior judges Sir James Munby and Sir Nicholas Mostyn, as well as the national organisation for family lawyers, Resolution.
Currently, unmarried couples don't have the same legal rights as married couples, as 'common-law' relationships aren't recognised in the same way, which could leave separating cohabiting couples in a vulnerable position. Division of finances, property and assets work differently for cohabiting couples, so there is a risk that one partner could end up with nothing - yet, if they were married, the outcome would be very different.
In a recent speech by Sir Nicholas Mostyn he expressed his concern over the unequal treatment of cohabiting and married couples, stating that there were no differences between the relationships of married and unmarried couples and he criticised the divorce system for offering protection and often ruling in favour of the wife.
He said, "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."
The head of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, is of a similar opinion that cohabiting couples should be protected by the law and that their financial rights were at a severe disadvantage when compared to married couples, but he also stated that he believed married couples should no longer need to attend court if they wish to divorce.
"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", said Sir James.
Family law organisation Resolution also support the views of Sir James and Sir Nicholas and want the law updating to be more in line with today's society and ways of living, which includes more varied and complex relationship statuses.
Chair of Resolution, Jo Edwards adds: "We want to see the debate shifted away from marriage. It’s not about whether people should get married or not. Cohabitees are the fastest growing type of household in the UK, with the Office of National Statistics latest data showing that 2,859,000 households are cohabiting. It’s time for the law to recognise that society has changed and afford more protection to this huge section of the British population."
If you are currently cohabiting and you are unsure of your legal rights then K J Smith Solicitors can help. We have many years of experience in drawing up cohabitation agreements which will help protect unmarried couples who are living together. We have also dealt with a number of issues relating to cohabitation disputes, for cohabiting couples that have decided to separate. For more information, 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) for your free 45 minute consultation.