It’s really exciting to see that cohabitation law reform is back on the agenda after a 15 year hiatus. Little has been actioned since the Law Commission Report in 2007, but this House of Commons Committee Report recommends that appropriate laws are swiftly made to protect economically vulnerable cohabitees, and that draft legislation should be published for scrutiny during the 2023-24 Parliamentary Session.
In the meantime, there are also recommendations for public awareness campaigns to dispel the common law myth perpetuated by insurance companies and the media, that cohabitants somehow accrue legal rights akin to married couples once they’ve lived together for a long time; the reality could not be more different and the law needs to move with societal norms and be relevant to the set up of modern families.
Many other countries have managed to create laws to provide for this whilst not eroding the distinction between getting married and not doing so – it’s about time it happened here too.
Current law applicable to cohabitants on relationship breakdown can be costly, complicated and unfair. Complex property law and trusts principles often require the financially weaker partneroften womento demonstrate direct financial contributions to the acquisition of the family home, while childcare and other non-financial contributions go largely unrecognised. Schedule 1 to the Children Act 1989, is out-dated, mostly benefits the children of wealthy parents and is in need of reform.
It is staggering that so many people in England and Wales believe in the common law marriage myth. This misplaced belief in legal protections can have profound consequences for cohabiting partnersmany of whom do not realise the reality of their situation until it is too late. The Government should conduct a public awareness campaign to highlight the legal distinctions between getting married, forming a civil partnership, or choosing to live together