Cohabitation is all
the rage. It may dismay the
traditionalists, but according to recent figures from the Office of National
Statistics, the rate of marriage continues to decline as couples decide to opt
out of the walk down the aisle in favour of simply moving in together.
As a family lawyer for
the last 25 years, I have seen the odd few cohabitation cases (disputes about
property or children) turn into a steady flow, which can account for up to half
of my work at times. Cohabiting
relationships have increased by over 25 % since 2008, for instance.
The legal protection
and rights afforded to cohabiting couples are very different to that afforded
to spouses and even though they have opted out of the legal relationship
regime, they still need to take advice in order to understand how they can
protect their finances and what claims they may have against a former partner.
On the breakdown of a
marriage, the judge at court can use their discretion to allocate assets and
income as they think fit, to satisfy the needs of the parties and of any
children. With cohabitee cases, the
court has no discretion to reallocate property assets, the judge must try to
follow the intention of the parties as to who would own what share. The judge has a larger role in cases
concerning the financial support of the children, but nothing like the powers
they can wield in divorce cases.
voluntary association of family lawyers) is pushing for reform so that
cohabitees are afforded greater legal protection on the breakdown of a
relationship. This follows the
recommendations of the Law Commission who recognised that many parties (mostly
women) were left vulnerable by financial decisions made whilst they were in
long term relationships. However, but
the appetite for reform in Parliament is minimal. It is not a vote winner, it’s as simple as
I qualified as an
accredited specialist in cohabitation cases with Resolution four years ago and since
then have advised many clients as to the best ways in which they can own
property jointly, the importance of recording agreements with their partner in
writing and their options for resolving disputes, whether via the courts or alternative
It is vitally
important that awareness of cohabitation issues increases and that is why I
support the Resolution campaign #ABetterWay.