A survey carried out by Resolution, an association for Family Lawyers committed to good practice in Family Law, showed that 88% of cohabiting couples believe they should have some legal protection. In addition, 98% said they had mistakenly thought that they have the same rights as married couples.
Although it is now ten years since the Law Commission recommended that new laws be introduced to provide for financial settlements for separating couples who have at least one child, based on contributions made, and subject to having lived together for a minimum period, no changes have been made to the law.
When cases relating to cohabiting couples come before the courts, the Judges try to achieve fairness in the best way that they can, but are constrained by the parameters of the legislation within which they must work.
There are many who argue that there should be a system whereby cohabitees who meet the specified criteria that demonstrates a stable and committed relationship would automatically acquire the right to apply for some financial Orders in the event they separate. Proposals on these lines usually include an ‘opt out’ clause if couple choose to do so.
The breakdown of a cohabiting relationship can leave one party homeless and without any financial stability, often despite the fact that they have for many years made a full contribution financially to the couples expenses in all respects.
There are those who argue that it is undesirable to put such protections in place as it devalues the importance of marriage, but given that figures recently published by the Office of National Statistics showed that cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK, with more than double the number in 2016 as opposed to 1996, it is perhaps time to recognise that at least some of those cohabitees need some degree of financial protection and stability.
It is always wise to take advice at as early a stage as possible to protect your position and know your rights; indeed, an increasing number of couples enter into a Living Together Agreement at the outset. If this is something that you would like to consider, please contact us for a no obligation discussion about your options.