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Cohabitation – time for change?

With more than 3 million couples in the UK choosing to cohabit, it is important that people are aware of their rights, or lack of them.

There remains a widespread misconception that there is such thing as a common law marriage and that cohabiting couples have the same rights as married couples. However, the reality is that if cohabiting couples separate they have very little legal protection. It is with this in mind that we approach Resolution’s National Cohabitation Awareness Week.

Resolution is an organisation made up of over 6,500 family lawyers and professionals who are committed to resolving family disputes in a constructive and non-confrontational manner. Each year they hold an awareness week and this year they are aiming to raise public awareness of the lack of rights for cohabitants.

The awareness week will take place from 27 November 2017 to 1 December 2017 and aims to dispel the myth of the common law marriage and present options for people wanting to protect themselves.

There are a number of ways that cohabitants can protect themselves including the following:

  • A Cohabitation Agreement – this is a contract that can set out how assets will be divided upon separation.
  • Making a will – cohabitants should always make a will if they want their partner to be provided for after their death. Unlike married couples cohabitants do not benefit automatically under the intestacy rules.
  • A Declaration of Trust – where there is jointly owned property this can define each party’s beneficial interest.

It is hoped that the laws for cohabitants in England and Wales will catch up with those of other countries that do provide legal protection for cohabiting couples such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and even as close to home as Scotland. Until that happens, cohabiting couples need to make sure they are actively taking steps to protect themselves.