Will 2024 See Reform to the Laws Around Cohabiting Couples?
Almost half of people believe that ‘common law marriage’ exists, according to research undertaken by NatCen in 2019. In fact, unmarried couples have very few legal rights at the end of a relationship.
When a couple separates or an unmarried partner dies without leaving a Will, the financially weaker partner can be left vulnerable, without the same rights as a married partner would have upon relationship breakdown.
Resolution’s Jo Edwards comments:
“Even more worryingly, many believe they do have some legal protection, in the form of a mythical ‘common-law’ status, and only find out too late that this does not exist.”
Understanding Cohabitation Laws in the UK
According to the Office for National Statistics, cohabiting-couple families account for almost 1 in 5 families. As the number of cohabiting couples continues to rise, it's crucial to understand the current legal framework and how potential reforms could impact these couples.
Current Legal Framework
- Legal Status: Unlike marriage, cohabitation does not automatically confer legal status or rights upon couples.
- Property Rights: Property rights for cohabiting couples are not as clear-cut as for married couples. Current laws rely heavily on property law and trusts, making disputes complex.
- Financial Support: There are no automatic rights for financial support on relationship breakdown, unlike the situation for married couples.
Reforming Cohabitation Laws
The Labour Party has recognised the need to reflect modern day families and has committed to reforming cohabitation laws.
Speaking at the Labour Party Conference in October 2023, Emily Thornberry spoke about the disadvantage to women in particular upon the breakdown of a cohabiting relationship. Reform would look at, for example, rights to property and the ability to claim financial support.
Should the Labour Party come to power in 2024, we will hopefully see it follow through on the commitment to reforming cohabitation laws. We would then expect to see more couples wanting legal advice about cohabitation agreements, to set out financial terms upon the end of an unmarried relationship.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out our blog on the key updates in family law as a whole in 2024.
At GoodLaw, we have solicitors with years of experience in navigating the legal rights for cohabiting couples. Contact us today to ensure your unique case is handled with the utmost care, professionalism, and expertise.