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New survey shows many cohabiting couples still don’t understand their legal status

As pressure grows for greater legal protection for cohabiting couples, so does the evidence that many cohabitees still mistakenly believe they have the same rights as married couples.

A recent survey by a major chain of solicitors found that:

  • More than one third of just over 1,000 cohabiting adults questioned either believed they had the same legal rights as married couples or didn’t know;
  • Another 35 per cent didn’t know that a property owned as joint tenants will usually be split 50/50 regardless of how much each party put in;
  • More than three quarters had never heard of legally binding cohabitation agreements;
  • Of those who had heard of them, just one in ten actually had one in place while only two per cent of all respondents had one.

Fastest growing family type

According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 3.3 million cohabiting couples in 2016, the fastest growing family type in the UK.

Yet whilst it is clear that society is changing, the legal system is not keeping up and sadly, this is frequently causing unfair results when couples part.

Call for safety net legislation

Nigel Shepherd, chair of the family law group Resolution, has said: “These figures are further proof that more and more couples are choosing to live together and bring up their children without marrying. Sadly, some of those relationships will come to an end at some point. This is a feature of our modern society that is here to stay and unfortunately current cohabitation law is failing to provide them with the rights some of them mistakenly think they have.

“Rather than ignoring these 3.3million families, our lawmakers must respond and introduce safety net legislation that will provide legal protection and fair outcomes at the time of a couple’s separation.”

Slow progress

While there are plans afoot to remedy the situation, progress is incredibly slow.

The Cohabitation Rights Bill had its second reading in 2014 but got no further. A similar bill was introduced to the House of Lords in June 2016 and a House of Commons briefing paper was published in March to summarise the position in England and Wales for MPs’ reference.

The Family Justice Bill – which includes cohabitation law reform – is now on parliament’s agenda, introduced by Conservative MP, Suella Fernandes. The bill, which has cross party support, had its first reading in March and is due to have its second reading next week (May 12).

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