Cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the United Kingdom. Since the late 90’s the number of cohabiting families has more than doubled. You would think that the law would be protecting these families in the same way as any married couple. That is not the case specially when the couple’s relationship breaks down or if one partner dies.
Common law marriage does not exist, it is a myth. Cohabitation gives no general legal status to a couple and thus couples will not be treated similar to married couples upon the breakdown of the relationship. The number of years that a couple live together does not matter and this will not provide any legal protection even if there are children in the family. Whilst cohabitees have very limited or no rights married couples have rights under legislation and case law. These are some of the examples of that inequality, whilst married couples are entitled to tax relief and exemptions, pension sharing, equal division of family assets and inheritance rights on the death of one partner, cohabiting partners do not share the privilege.
The government seems to be conflicted as it tries to protect families and at the same time tries to promote the sanctity of marriage. There have been campaigns to persuade the government to address the imbalance between married and cohabiting couples. There have been some Bills introduced and even debated in Parliament. However, the truth of the matter is that we still have no formal legislation to protect our cohabiting families when relationships breakdown. In November 2017 Resolution ran an extensive awareness campaign. There is support from family law practitioners and the judges to introduce legislation which will address the unfairness of the current situation. We can be hopeful that at some point the government will acknowledge that it needs to legislate according to how we live as a society.
Having said the above there is something that cohabiting partners can do to help themselves. If you are planning to live together, maybe purchase a property jointly and/or start a family you should consider putting your affairs in order just in case the relationship breaks down in the future or one of the partners dies. A cohabitation agreement will take away most if not all of the unknowns out of the equation. The couple can decide, in advance, how they wish to deal with their day to day matters as well as the division of assets should the relationship come to an end. A will is also essential as if one partner dies the other is not left destitute. You can get legal advice from a family law practitioner at your local law firm.
The point I try to emphasise in this blog is that if you are planning to live together as opposed to getting into a civil partnership or marriage, have a cohabitation agreement drawn up as soon as practicable as this will save you both a lot of stress and legal costs in the future should the relationship not work out or a partner sadly passes away.