Why unmarried couples can’t afford to make assumptions
The fastest growing type of family in Britain
Society is rapidly evolving and families today look very different from those a generation or so ago.
One of the single biggest changes is the fact that the number of unmarried couples living together has ballooned massively over the course of recent years.
In fact research suggests that cohabitees are the fastest growing type of family in the UK. The figures can’t be argued with. Roll the clock back to 1996 – when Oasis and Blur were battling for chart success and England was hosting the European football championships – and there were 1.5 million cohabiting couples in Britain.
Twenty years on, the number had more than doubled to 3.3 million. To put this in context, this is a figure more than 15 times the total population of York!
One problem is that laws haven’t kept up to speed with the times and – despite the fact that there are more of them than ever before – cohabitees actually have precious few rights when compared with married couples and those in civil partnerships.
A good many people have been pushing MPs to stop avoiding the issue and take steps to change the law, although these pleas have unfortunately tended to fall on deaf ears.
There are also concerns that the majority of cohabitees are unaware of where they stand and don’t in fact realise that they have very few rights until the point at which a relationship breaks down – hardly a pleasant situation to find yourself in!
A family law association, Resolution, recently held a Cohabitation Awareness Week – in the hope of destroying some of the myths that tend to surround the current laws.
At the top of their list was tackling the misconception that there is such a thing as a “common law” husband or wife in English law. In fact this is a concept which carries no weight at all in the courts and it is wrong to assume that if people have lived together for many years that they will automatically have a similar status to those who are married.
Three things to bear in mind
It is worth couples who aren’t married considering signing a cohabitation agreement, setting out how property should be shared in the event a relationship comes to an end.
Cohabitees won’t necessarily have the same rights in relation to their children, so arrangements for them is again something that could be covered by a cohabitation agreement.
While family law tends to be the main focus of cohabitation disputes, difficulties can also arise if a partner dies without making a Will. Only spouses, civil partners and other close relatives can inherit under the intestacy laws which apply in this situation.
Find out more about cohabitation
If you would like to find out more about drafting a cohabitation agreement, please contact our family law specialist, Simon Nellar, by telephone on 01904 528200 or via his email: email@example.com