7th Aug 2019

Is the law fit for purpose for cohabiting couples?

Given today’s news  that cohabiting couples are the fastest-growing UK family type, what is family law doing to keep pace?

Apparently less of us are choosing to marry (or maybe delay until later in life); preferring instead the less formal (and less legally recognised) cohabitation. 

Although the data referred to in the article is for the decade to 2006, ironically the UK Government’s current response is to regulate more.  The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Act means that, as well as the option of marriage, cohabiting couples will soon be allowed to enter into civil partnerships – something which has been available to same-sex cohabiting couples since 2004.

It remains to be seen whether those cohabiting couples who (presumably) actively decide not to marry will then decide to take the steps needed to formalise their relationship by entering into a civil partnership.    If you enter into a civil partnership you are still choosing to put your relationship on a formal footing, for which many of the rights and responsibilities are broadly the same as marriage anyway.  I worry that some cohabitees will have a misplaced belief that they are now protected, and they are “civil partners” - although they never enter into a formal civil partnership.

After practising in family law for the last 25 years I’ve witnessed many changes in legislation and who can do what.  As things stand, the law still does not sufficiently protect cohabitees and more understanding and protection is desperately needed, if this is the largest growing family group. Resolution  has done much about raising awareness and campaigning in this area. 

As ever, if you are unsure about your current position in a relationship or need advice as to “what ifs” in the future, then get specialist legal advice NOW. 

Boring but true; forewarned is forearmed and prevention is better than cure.

Sarah Smith  is Yorkshire’s only Eminent Practitioner; with over 25 years’ experience in supporting families of all shapes and sizes. 

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