Cohabitation law reform - trying to make the dream a reality

October 24, 2023
Posted by:
Laura Flanagan

It was announced two weeks ago by Labour MP Emily Thornberry that a Labour government would reform the law as it relates to cohabiting couples, something that has previously been rejected by the current government.

With marriage rates falling to the lowest on record, the number of couples in a cohabiting relationship has increased. Currently the law offers little by way of financial provision for cohabiting couples with the large majority of people not being aware of their limited financial rights both in death and in relationship breakdown. Whilst the situation is slightly different for couples with children, there remains a significant disparity between married (or civil partners) parents of children and cohabiting parents of children.

The UK parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee published a report in August 2022 which made a number of recommendations for potential change (and supporting the suggestions proposed by the Law Commission in their 2007 report which is an indication as to how long reform is overdue in this area). The report proposed an “opt out cohabitation scheme” where couples could decide before or during their cohabitation (or even after it had ended) whether or not any reformed law, which would provide much greater financial protection for couples on separation, should apply to them. The report also suggested a change to the Inheritance Tax regime so that it applied in the same way to cohabiting couples as it does to married couples and civil partners. This proposal and many others included in both the Law Commission report and the Women and Equalities Committee report were rejected by the government.

Whilst currently the law continues to offer little protection to cohabiting couples it remains a live political issue for many practitioners and couples alike who can see the clear need for reform in this area. It is an issue which Resolution (the organisation for family lawyers that promotes constructive and amicable dialogue between its members representing separated couples) has confirmed will be a cornerstone of their Vision for Family Justice campaign which is to be launched next month.

Despite the ongoing campaign for change, reform is still likely a long way off so it is important to fully understand your rights as things currently stand. If you are in a cohabiting relationship and would like to discuss your position, whether on separation or in death, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team at Burgess Mee.

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