Family & Divorce
Labour proposes to reform Cohabitation Laws
Recently at a Labour Party conference, shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry MP announced that a Labour government would create reform around cohabitation laws in the UK.
In her speech she stated that the Labour party was committed to giving cohabiting couples financial rights and responsibilities on the breakdown of a relationship.
Cohabitation is the UK’s fastest growing family type and there are around 3.6 million couples currently cohabiting in the UK. In 2022, 18% of families were cohabiting families and this type makes up around ¾ of the total growth in the number of families in the past decade.
Many people believe that they are protected under a ‘common law marriage’ when in fact this does not exist in England and Wales. There is a lack of protection for cohabiting couples in the event of a relationship breaking down or one of them passing away without having made a Will. The Chair of Resolution’s Family Law Reform Group explained “cohabiting couples currently have little to no legal protection when they separate, with no safety net in place to protect those left financially vulnerable if their relationship ends”.
In relation to children, parents have a financial obligation even when they are unmarried however the Courts do not have the same powers to reallocate assets as they can on divorce. Resolution argued that belief in common law marriage “can put couples, and their children, at a significant disadvantage if the relationship breaks down or one partner passes away”.
No matter how long a couple have been together, if they are unmarried, they have no automatic legal right to share in each other’s property, pension, other assets or claim maintenance for themselves.
The Second Report of Session 2022-23 Women and Equalities Committee Report showed that a lack of awareness of the law on cohabitation does not help matters. Around 45% of people in England and Wales believe that there are automatic rights the same as marriage or a civil partnership when cohabiting couples separate and 55% of people in England and Wales believe that the same or similar laws dealing with finances that apply to divorcing couples also apply to cohabiting couples where children are involved.
“While Labour’s proposals would be a step in the right direction, there is still a long road ahead on potential reforms for cohabitating couples. Our family team at Mullis & Peake can help provide some protection in the meantime by advising you on your rights as a cohabitee and drafting cohabitation agreements so that your financial affairs are provided for should your relationship breakdown in the future.“