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Changes to law for unmarried couples?

View profile for Mike Devlin
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I have just been reading an interesting article in ‘The Times’ newspaper that talks about a senior law judge remarking that changes to the law should be made to protect couples that are not married but live together. I quote from the article a statement by the president of the Family Division of the Court system, Sir Nicholas Wall who stated “I am in favour of cohabitees having rights because of the injustice of the present situation”.
Sir Nicholas Wall also stated that “The majority of people don’t understand that living together does not give them any financial protection should the relationship end, which leaves countless people vulnerable”. As most people are unaware common law wives/husbands do not exist and even if you have lived together for a lengthy period this does not automatically give you rights to claim an interest in the family home. Cohabitating couples do not have rights to claim on each other’s savings / pensions and other finances unlike married couples. The current law is extremely complex and there are a number of things you must be able to prove before you can claim an interest in a property if the property is owned in one of the party’s sole name.  Problems also occur where the property is jointly owned and disputes arise regarding how much of the property each person is entitled to or if the property should be sold now or at a later date e.g. when the children reach 18 years.
It is hopeful that the current government may implement changes to the current law to give unmarried couples some protection in the event the relationship breaks down. However, I do not envisage this being a quick process even with a senior judges’ backing as the previous labour government also considered changing the law and then decided against taking any action.
I would always strongly recommend that until the law is changed (which could never happen) couples who decide to live together or are already living together have an agreement drafted to determine what will happen with the family home, finances, furniture and any other assets should the relationship break down. Without these agreements couples can end up in lengthy and costly legal battles to determine what they are entitled to following the breakdown of their relationship.
Stephensons have a specialist team that is able to assist you should you require any advice regarding cohabitation agreements, cohabitation disputes or separation agreements. If you require any advice or assistance please contact our advice line on 01942 774454 for free initial advice.
By family law specialist, Gillian Lavelle