Raising awareness for cohabitants
According to the figures from the Office of National Statistics, cohabitants number 3.3 million of 19 million families in the UK, having more than doubled from 1.5 million families in 1996. There is an increasing trend to cohabit rather than marry, and currently two thirds of children are born to unmarried mothers.
This trend makes it all the more necessary to consider the financial impact of the breakdown of the relationship. According to research in 2013, almost half the British public believe in the myth of ‘common law marriage’ – that cohabitants have the same or similar rights as married people. This is untrue and can have dire consequences.
As the law stands, it is possible to live together for years, and even have children together, and then leave when the relationship breaks down with no responsibility taken for those left behind, save for child maintenance. This often comes as a shock and can cause great difficulties for the financially weaker party, as is in stark contrast to the protection provided for married couples by law. It often has a disproportionate impact on women, as many give up work to become primary carer for children or elderly relatives leaving them with nothing if the relationship ends. This can lead to severe financial problems, homelessness and debt.
Resolution, the national organisation of family lawyers, has called for the introduction of some rights for cohabiting couples when they separate. Other countries such as Australia, Canada and Scotland already provide legal protection.
Whilst there is a balance to be struck between those who make a deliberate decision to cohabit, and who do not want or need the protection of legislation, and those who don’t, there is a clear need for legislation in this area to ensure that the needs of the financially weaker party and the children of the relationship are met. Education is a key issue that needs to be addressed to ensure that those who cohabit are aware at the outset exactly what rights they have.
If you would like any information about cohabitation and what steps can be taken to protect you or your family on the breakdown of your relationship please contact Claire Tollefson on 01892 506191.