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Family Lawyers Support Call for Rights for Cohabiting Couples

Alastair MacLeod aThis week is Cohabitation Awareness Week and expert family lawyers are backing a call for the Government to recognise the rights of unmarried couples who live together.

According to Resolution, the national organisation of family lawyers, cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK, with more than 6 million unmarried people living together, representing 17% of all families.

However, despite the myth of ‘common law marriage’, 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 if the relationship breaks down.

Alastair MacLeod, a senior associate in the family team at Clarke Willmott LLP and Chair of Resolution in Somerset, is supporting Resolution’s call this week for the Government to afford rights to cohabiting couples.

He said: “Many couples who live together unmarried are unaware of their lack of rights and, if the relationship breaks down, surprised that they are not legally protected.

“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.

“In 2007 the Law Commission recommended affording rights to cohabiting couples, yet the situation remains unchanged. With numbers of cohabiting couples projected to continue their rise, it is imperative to resolve this issue.

“Although the proportion of couples who live together but do not marry is rising all the time, an alarming number of people are still unaware of their lack of rights and assume that prolonged periods of cohabitation, or the fact that they have children together, grants them automatic rights to share income, assets and pension.

“Many people refer to being common-law husbands and wives, but this is not a status recognised by the law in this country. 

“If a relationship breaks down there are very limited options available if you find yourself being asked to leave your home because it is not in joint names. Other than paying maintenance for children there is no obligation for a cohabitee to share their income. There is no provision for pension to be shared.

“These issues and the changing way that families are formed means that we really need legislative reform, and the Government must address this issue properly.”

To learn more about Resolution and Cohabitation Awareness Week visit www.resolution.org.uk. Clarke Willmott LLP has a top-ranked specialist team who can assist with all areas of family law, including providing advice for those thinking of cohabiting with a new partner or those already in a cohabiting relationship. For more information visit www.clarkewillmott.com.

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