Cohabitation and the law: Changes to Cohabitation Rights

Recently, the Law Commission recommended that changes should be made to the rights of cohabiting couples. Presently, cohabiting couples have very few rights under the law. If one partner dies and there is no will, the other has no right to any of their partner’s possessions which will automatically be given to their next of kin.

This includes property they currently live in, even if they have been contributing to the mortgage and bills. If they split up, the situation is the same. They will have no legal right to receive maintenance from their partner, and no entitlement to continue residing in their shared property unless it is in both names.

Many couples these days are choosing not to get married under the mistaken belief that a common law marriage has the same legal status as a marriage or civil partnership, according to several Leeds family law solicitors. In fact, the common law marriage isn’t recognised at all under the law. If the couple have children, the father does not automatically have any parental rights unless he has registered himself as the father. In the event of their separation, therefore, this would cause serious delays to his ability to obtain visitation rights.

The most unfortunate aspect of the current situation is the tendency of couples to share household expenses informally. Once they have split up, they have no recourse to the law for how to divide household items they have bought together, and one partner can be left with no compensation even if they have spent many years fully supporting the other. This is becoming an increasing concern and area that many Leeds divorce solicitors are being asked for advice on.

The Law Commission has recommended that cohabiting couples, or a common law partnership, should be entitled to certain inheritance rights without a will. Resolution’s chair, David Allison, agrees that this would be a positive move;

“The death of a partner is a painful enough experience, without becoming embroiled in disagreements about financial settlements during a time which should be spent mourning the loss of a loved one.

“We believe this news will come as a relief to the more than two million couples that currently live together, and we would urge the government to take this recommendation forward.

“There is a popular myth that the “common-law” spouse is afforded legal rights – this simply isn’t the case. This doesn’t mean cohabitants would have equal rights to married couples, but it does reflect the way that many people are choosing to live their lives, and it is important that the law recognises this.”

If the proposals were to be implemented, they would remove the ability of the deceased partner’s family to effectively ‘evict’ the surviving partner from a shared home. Under current law, there is nothing to stop the inheritors from selling off any property that the partner resides in, no matter how long the couple have been together.

At the moment, marriage rates are the lowest they have ever been and are set to decrease even further. It is clear, therefore, that the law will have to take steps to further recognise the rights of cohabiting couples.