On 1 November 2022, the Government rejected the recommendations made by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee in its report on The Rights of Cohabiting Partners. The Government justified its decision by stating that existing work on the law of marriage and divorce must conclude before it could consider changes to cohabitation law.
The House of Commons report, published in August 2022, called for reform to family law in England and Wales to better protect cohabiting couples and their children from financial hardship in the event of separation. The report noted that ‘it is time the law adapted to the social reality of modern relationships while still recognising the social and religious status of marriage’.
A key recommendation in the report was to establish an opt-out cohabitation scheme which was first proposed by the Law Commission in 2007. To be eligible for financial relief under the Law Commission’s scheme, couples living together in a joint household would either need to have had a child together or to have lived together for a minimum duration period. The report supported the Law Commission’s opt-out cohabitation scheme in having the potential to:
- protect eligible cohabitants who are economically vulnerable;
- preserve individual autonomy;
- maintain a distinction with marriage and civil partnership; and
- provide certainty about who qualifies as a cohabitant.
Graeme Fraser, Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation Committee has responded to the Government’s decision, stating that ‘we are bitterly disappointed that the Government has today rejected any meaningful action that would give cohabiting couples the basic legal protections they urgently require.’
The calls for strengthening cohabitation rights comes after cohabiting partners make up the fastest growing type of family in the UK, with the number of couples living together having more than doubled to 3.6 million since the law governing cohabitees’ property rights, the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TLATA), was made.
In comparison to spouses and civil partners who are afforded certain legal rights upon divorce and death, cohabiting couples do not have this level of protection. As noted by the report, there is a common misconception that cohabiting couples automatically gain rights equal to a marriage or civil partnership, known as the 'common law marriage myth'.
To read the full report on the rights of cohabiting partners, please follow the link: