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 Government urged to end 'legal limbo' for unmarried couples
Category:International Legal News  
Subject:People and society  
Source:The Law Society
Publish Date:08-11-2022
 

The government should improve legal protections for unmarried couples by introducing a scheme proposed by the Law Commission 15 years ago, a cross-party group of MPs has recommended.
There were 3.6 million cohabiting couples last year compared to 1.5 million in 1996. However, the House of Commons women and equalities committee says many people wrongly believe that, after a certain amount of time living together, the law treats cohabitants as if they were married – dubbed the ‘common law marriage myth'.
To improve the rights of cohabiting partners, the committee urges the government to introduce an opt-out cohabitation scheme proposed by the Law Commission in its 2007 report on the financial consequences of relationship breakdown.
The commission said at the time that the scheme would provide economically vulnerable members of society with the private means to rebuild their lives and ensure a fairer division of assets should the relationship break down. It would apply to cohabitants who had a child or lived together for a specified number of years.
In a report published last week, the committee said the commission's scheme offered a ‘pragmatic approach' for reforming cohabitation law that would protect eligible cohabitants who are economically vulnerable, preserve individual autonomy, maintain a distinction with marriage and civil partnership, and provide certainty about who qualifies as a cohabitant.
The committee said the government should commit to publishing draft legislation for scrutiny in the 2023-24 parliamentary session. The Ministry of Justice should commission a ‘refresh review' of the commission's 2007 proposals to check if anything needs to be updated.
Family law group Resolution said the government had a moral obligation to end the ‘legal limbo' for cohabiting couples. Graeme Fraser, chair of Resolution's cohabitation committee, said: ‘The lack of rights for cohabiting couples has seen millions of people – often women – at significant financial risk if their relationship ends or their partner passes away. Now is the time for ministers to finally grasp the nettle and reform laws to ensure cohabiting families have better legal protection.
‘Cohabiting families are the fastest growing family type in England and Wales and yet lack even the most basic legal protections. Ministers have a moral obligation to act now to protect them – otherwise, left unreformed, the current law will consign even more families to misery and dire financial hardship.'
A government spokesperson said:' We will carefully consider these recommendations and respond in due course.'

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