Marriage v’s cohabitation
Posted on 27th April 2015
Alan Rickman has revealed to German newspaper Bild that he has wed his partner of 50 years, Rima Horton (http://www.bild.de/unterhaltung/leute/alan-rickman/heimliche-hochzeit-von-harry-potter-star-40654732.bild.html).
But this is probably an exception as more and more people are delaying or putting off marriage completely. According to the Office for National Statistics (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/cohabitation-rpt.html) cohabitation has nearly doubled to 5.9 million since 1996.
The stigma of ‘living in sin’ has long fallen away. However, the law still lags behind this social trend, which is likely to continue to rise in line with the decline of marriage and slow take up of civil partnerships.
There are serious implications for people who don’t marry but they may not be aware of them.
For example, there is no automatic right to claim maintenance or a beneficial interest in property (unless you are named on the legal title) upon the breakdown of a relationship.
The biggest problem is that on death, without a will, you have no right of inheritance, even if, like Alan Rickman and Rima Horton, you have been in a very long relationship akin to marriage.
In 2007 the Law Commission had published a report (Cohabitation: The Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown) (http://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/publications/723.htm) recommending change. The government had the opportunity to address this imbalance when the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014 came into play last October, but didn’t. The Cohabitation Rights Bill received its first reading in the House of Lords in June 2014 and its second reading in December 2014 (http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2014-15/cohabitationrights.html). In addition the Law Commission is aiming to start a project on reviewing the law on wills in 2015 with a view to providing a draft bill by 2018, which could not come soon enough given the current unsatisfactory position for unmarried couples.
Until then though, the best thing you can do for yourself and/or your children is to consider putting in place safeguards (like cohabitation agreements, declarations of trust and wills) to avoid the pitfalls highlighted.