Cohabitation Over Christmas? A Case for the Cohabitation Rights Bill

As the New Year approaches, many couples consider deepening their relationship. While some opt for marriage, a growing trend sees couples choosing to cohabit. However, many aren’t aware that in England and Wales, the notion of a ‘common law spouse’ is a myth, and cohabiting couples have limited legal rights. This Christmas, the real wish for cohabitees should be the passage of the Cohabitation Rights Bill.

In the UK, cohabitation has risen from 20.6% in 2011 to 24.3% in 2021, with 3.6 million unmarried couples cohabiting in 2023, compared to 1.5 million in 1996. Despite the increase in cohabitation over marriage, cohabiting couples in England and Wales lack the same rights and protections as married ones, often leading to financial difficulties when relationships end.

Consider the case of John and Debbie. They move in together, with Debbie contributing financially to the mortgage and upkeep of the house. If they split up after ten years, Debbie, despite her contributions, has no legal rights to the property or any financial settlement, barring child maintenance depending on circumstances.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, cohabitation protections exist, but not in England and Wales. Hence, the introduction of the UK Cohabitation Rights Bill in 2019, proposing rights for cohabitating couples similar to those of married couples, including financial settlements and inheritance rights upon separation.

The bill offers cohabitating couples who have lived together for three years, or have a child, rights akin to those of married couples, such as applying for financial settlements and child maintenance orders.

Despite its importance, the bill’s progress has been delayed, and its enactment remains uncertain. The UK government rejected recommendations for better legal protection for cohabiting couples in November 2022. The complexity and cost of creating a new legal framework for cohabitation contribute to the delay.

With no confirmed date for the bill’s passage, and current legal uncertainties, cohabitees are advised to seek specialised legal help. Vasoulla Constantinou, an experienced solicitor from Tyrer Roxburgh Solicitors, recommends a cohabitation agreement as an effective solution to resolve disputes, suggesting that couples first agree on asset division before involving lawyers.

A typical cohabitation agreement costs upwards of £599, but not having one can be more costly in the long run. So, for couples planning to cohabit in the New Year, a Cohabitation Agreement should be high on the Christmas list.

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