Resolution has welcomed the announcement made by Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry MPs speech at today’s (Tuesday 10 October) Labour Party Conference, in which she announced a Labour government would reform the law for cohabiting couples.
Speaking in response, Jo Edwards, Chair of Resolution’s Family Law Reform Group commented: “This is a hugely welcome development and one that should be welcomed by cohabiting couples, together with practitioners who see the significant financial hardship caused by our current, out of date law.”
With more than 3.6 million cohabiting couples in the UK, they are the fastest-growing family type (in 2022 they made up 18% of all families and accounted for three-quarters of the total growth in the number of families in the UK in the last 10 years). Yet currently they have very few legal rights when the relationship ends through separation or if one partner dies. Many are caught out by the ‘common law marriage myth’ – believing they have legal rights when, in fact, no such protections exist.
Jo Edwards explained: “Cohabiting couples currently have little to no legal protection when they separate, with no safety net in place to protect those left financially vulnerable if their relationship ends. If a couple separates or a cohabiting partner passes away without making a Will, it is invariably women who face significant financial difficulty. This is regardless of the level of commitment shown, including the length of their relationship or the birth of children.
“Even more worryingly, many believe they do have some legal protection, in the form of a mythical ‘common-law’ status, and only find out too late that this does not exist. The impact of the current legal framework on women and children needs to be looked at urgently, something Resolution has been arguing for many years, and we welcome today’s commitment to reform.”
Graeme Fraser, Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation Committee, added “Today’s announcement is a welcome step in the right direction. I hope that, in the coming months, all parties will commit to reforming the law in this area, which is long overdue and currently leaves millions of couples at significant financial risk.”
“We know that families come in different shapes and sizes. An increasing number of couples are either consciously choosing not to marry, or, for a variety of reasons, simply don’t make (or don’t have) that choice. But despite the prevalence of cohabitation, the law remains complex, outdated, and unfair.”
Jo Edwards concluded, “Cohabitation reform will be an important cornerstone of Resolution’s Vision for Family Justice, which will be launched next month and will set out a variety of changes we suggest to the family justice system in order to better serve separating couples and their children. We look forward to continuing the conversation with officials and politicians on this and other important issues.”