Cohabiting couples are becoming the fastest growing family type choice in England and Wales.
Recent studies show there were around 3.6 million cohabiting couples in 2021, which compared to 1.5 million in 1996 just shows how much this way of living has grown.
A group of cross-party MPs are calling for cohabitation law reform who say that cohabiting couples have “inferior” protections to those who are married or within a civil partnership.
The Women and Equalities Committee has published a new report titled “The Rights of Cohabiting Partners”, highlighting the lack of protection against the risks faced by cohabiting couples.
A summary of the report reads, “Notwithstanding the legal reality, many people believe in the so- called ‘common law marriage myth’, which is the erroneous belief that after a certain amount of time of living together, the law treats cohabitants as if they were married”.
In reality, upon the breakdown of a family, cohabitants “must rely on complex property law and trusts principles”, adding that “Schedule 1 to the Children Act 1989 is outdated, mostly benefits the children of wealthy parents and is in need of reform. On death, cohabitants do not automatically inherit from their partner”.
“The lack of legal protection on family breakdown means that women, including women from an ethnic minority background and those who have had a religious-only wedding, can suffer relationship- generated disadvantage.
It is time the law adapted to the social reality of modern relationships while still recognising the social and religious status of marriage.”
The report also included the following key points and recommendations:
The Government should legislate for an opt-out cohabitation scheme as proposed by the Law Commission. The Ministry of Justice should commission a refresh review of the recommendations to see if they need updating.
- Support for the Law Commission’s 2011 proposals concerning intestacy and family provision claims for cohabiting partners. The Committee calls on the Government to implement those proposals.
- The Government should also publish clear guidelines on how pension schemes should treat surviving cohabitants when claiming a survivor’s pension.
- The Committee recommends that Ministers review the inheritance tax regime, so it is the same for cohabiting partners as it is for married couples and civil partners.
- The Government should launch a public awareness campaign to inform people of the legal distinctions between getting married, forming a civil partnership and living together as cohabiting partners.