As the number of couples living together increases, the distinction between cohabitation and marriage can seem to be blurred. What many unmarried couples do not realise is just how strictly the law still distinguishes between their situation and that of a married couple. It is often only on separation, or on the death of a partner, that the legal consequences become a reality and serious financial hardship can result.

The last Government decided not to implement any of the Law Commission's recommendations on the reform of cohabitation law, but many leading family lawyers put changes to this area at the top of their reform agenda.

Sir Nicholas Wall, the President of the Family Division, recently called for reform in an interview with The Times. He said:

'I am in favour of cohabitees having rights because of the injustice of the present situation. Women cohabitees, in particular, are severely disadvantaged by being unable to claim maintenance and having their property rights determined by the conventional laws of trusts.'