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Rise of cohabiting couples sparks new demand for legal change

Further calls are being made to change the law to protect cohabiting couples if they separate.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show there are now 3.3 million cohabiting couple families in the UK. This makes it the fastest growing family type with the number more than doubling in the last 20 years from 1.5 million in 1996.

Common law marriage myth

Although surveys continue to show that almost half the British public believe cohabiting couples have protection in common law, in actual fact they have none of the legal rights of married couples.

Nigel Shepherd of Resolution, the national organisation of family lawyers committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes, believes it is high time the law caught up with the changing nature of British society.

Current law is failing cohabitees

He says: “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.”

Huge impact

And Graeme Fraser, Resolution’s spokesman on cohabitation law, added: “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 when the relationship breaks down. 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.”

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