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Rise in Unmarried Families Emphasises Need for Law Reform

View profile for Julie Bailey
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The Office for National Statistics published some new figures in June revealing that the number of unmarried couples living together in the UK has risen from 14% in 2001 to 17% in 2011.

In comparison the number of households with married couples fell from 70% to 65% and perhaps what is more telling is that 38% of cohabiting couples had a dependent child.

We all know that the world has changed remarkably over the past couple of decades. It seems marriage is no longer the norm for many people.

However, the law has not moved with the times and this means despite what people might think couples who live together have limited rights in the event of relationship breakdown.

Working as a specialist family solicitor for 27 years I’ve heard lots of myths about cohabitees gaining more rights after they’ve lived together for a certain number of years, but the truth is there is no such thing as a common law husband / wife.

If the couple jointly own a property individual entitlements are decided using the principles of property law. The discretion of the court to look at their actual circumstances is very limited, which means the outcome may be very different from the same scenario where the couple are married.

Lord Marks has proposed a Cohabitation Rights Bill, but it is still in the early stages as all aspects of the bill have yet to be discussed.

Until the law changes the best way for couples to protect themselves and their assets against a potentially unfair outcome in the event of a split is to have a cohabitation agreement or property ownership document.

For more advice or to talk through any concerns you might have please call me at our Lincoln office on 01522 781481 or my colleague in Newark, Sue Leadbeater, on 01636 593511.