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Government shelves Law Commission reforms of property rights

Many couples in Britain are co-habiting; more than 36% have been in relationships where they have cohabited and 11% do so at present.  Very few of these couples have taken steps to safeguard their positions.

Many couples have learned, to their great shock, the legal remedies available to them, following the breakdown of their relationship, are costly and limited.

In the midst of separation, a cohabiting couple experiences the same emotional turmoil as a married couple going through a divorce. This is compounded by the trauma of being told that unmarried cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples or those in a civil partnership.

The Law Commission’s report on the reform of property rights for cohabitees focused on:

– Periodical and/or lump sum payments or transfers of property on separation
– The automatic right of a surviving cohabiting partner to inherit where the deceased partner has not left a will
– A review of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 as it applies to cohabitants and their children
– Whether contracts between cohabitants, setting out how they will share their property in the event of the relationship ending, should be legally enforceable, and, if so, in what circumstances

Currently, none of the above applies to cohabiting couples.  There are over four million couples living together in England and Wales in cohabitation, and they are given legal protection in several areas. However, they and their families have significantly fewer rights than people who are married or who have formed a civil partnership.

Many people think that, after living with their partner for a few years, they become ‘common law husband and wife’ with the same rights as married couples. This is not the case. In fact, couples who live together have hardly any of the same rights as married couples or civil partners.

There is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’.

The government has announced that it will not be taking forward the Law Commission’s recommendations for reform of the law governing the property rights of unmarried cohabiting couples during the life of the current Parliament. It is unclear whether the government intends to implement the proposals in a future Parliament.

Cohabiting partners are strongly advised to seek legal advice in connection with their rights and put in place Wills and other legal documentation that will help to protect them on breakdown of the relationship or death of their partner, before it is too late.

Sources:-
direct.gov.uk
law commission projects: cohabitation
marilyn stowe of stowe family law
practical law company