Law needs ‘to catch up with the needs of cohabiting couples'
The family law group Resolution has urged the government to increase legal protection for cohabiting couples.
New figures released by the Office for National Statistics reveal that unmarried couples living together are now the fastest growing family grouping in the UK.
There are 3.1 million opposite sex cohabiting couple families. It means they now make up 17% of all families compared with 14% in 2005.
Many cohabitants think they have the same rights as married couples, but in fact they have very little legal protection when they separate.
Graeme Fraser, Resolution spokesman on cohabitation law, said: “Under current cohabitation law it’s possible to live with someone for decades and even to have children together and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner when the relationship breaks down.
“This can have a huge impact on women and children, particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her work to raise a family.”
A total of 41% of all opposite sex cohabiting couple families have dependent children in the household. Same sex cohabiting couple families have also increased to 90,000 in 2015.
Mr Fraser said: "These statistics should be regarded by policymakers as a wake-up call that cohabitation is a trend of modern society that is not going to go away.
“As family lawyers who see the damage caused by the lack of protection for cohabiting couples when they separate, Resolution calls for the urgent introduction of safety net legislation providing legal protection and fair outcomes at the time of a couple's separation, particularly for children and mothers left vulnerable under the existing law.”
The government has so far been unwilling to change the law for fear of undermining the role of marriage. Many couples therefore protect themselves by drawing up living together or cohabitation agreements, which state in advance how their assets should be divided if the relationship comes to an end.
These agreements can make both parties feel more secure and reduce stress and tension if the couple do eventually separate.
Please contact Lorna Barry and Kirsty Bowers if you would like more information about cohabitation agreements or any aspect of family law.