This week is Resolution’s Cohabitation Awareness Week. They are attempting to raise awareness of the huge discrepancy between current matrimonial law and the rights of cohabiting partners.
According to Resolution, there are currently 3.3 m unmarried couples living in the UK. In a campaign supported by President of the Supreme Court , Baroness Hale, Resolution are seeking to improve the rights of cohabiting couples to bring them in line with those of a separating married couple on divorce.
One of the biggest myths in family law is that of the common law spouse - the widely held belief that cohabiting couples have the same rights as married couples.
In law, you only have any financial claim on your partner’s finances if you are married. It does not matter how long you have been living together. If you separate as a cohabiting couple, you are seen by the Family Court as a single person. You would not be guaranteed a financial settlement on separating as a cohabiting couple. Indeed, separating joint assets becomes more difficult.
There have been recent cases coming through the court where unmarried couples have won the right to claim deceased partner’s pensions and bereavement rights – but these have been hard fought cases and the rights are by no means guaranteed.
Often a separating co-habiting couple who have lived together for a long time have made home together and often have children. They are unaware that they are unprotected in relation to finances and there is no automatic legal route they can take. Claims between co-habiting couples are often long, expensive and stressful. Even if one partner earns more than another, unless there are children of the relationship, there is no legal way the poorer partner can gain any support from the higher earning partner – and even then it can only be for the benefit of the child.
Co-habitation is the growing to be the most common relationship type in the UK, with marriage decreasing and people choosing just to live together. In doing this, they are not aware of the potential risk they are placing themselves under financially if the relationship should fail.
Protecting your interests in a cohabiting relationship is an important issue. While it may seem unromantic, entering into an agreement when you live together is the best way try deal with these issues. Specialist property advice should be taken on purchasing a property but also a living together agreement is sensible to deal with how you will share your finances and what would happen on a split.
If you have children, a Parenting Agreement may be considered as a way to deal with any issues of a separating cohabiting couple.