The next General Election should be called any time between now and 17 December 2024. Intentions to introduce new ideas, policies and laws to deliver those policies are floated ahead of time as teasers. They are all hopeful that by clarifying their stance, they will garner votes. New ideas and law on family issues make rare appearances in manifestos. So when, on 10 October 2023, the Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry MPs announced that a Labour government would reform the law for cohabiting couples, it drew some attention.
The current law impacts upon 3.6m couples from all age groups. They are the fastest-growing family type in England and Wales making up 18% of all families in 2022.
There is no clear body of cohabitation law . It is a tangle of property and trust law with no clear and predictable outcomes. The misplaced belief in the ‘common law spouses’ who somehow acquires the same rights as those of married couples, is a dangerous one. If a relationship ends there are few or no legal rights and no safety net leaving ,more often than not, women very vulnerable. Where there are children under 18 from the relationship, there may be some limited options for ongoing financial support and housing until the children finish their education but this still leaves the majority of couples with no certainty of outcome.
The problem is a real one and options for change have been identified and scoped by many including the Law Commission. Oddly at present, couples can make wills to protect themselves and their partners upon death and such provision is more generous and reliable than if a couple separate in life. Time will tell if new legislation will be introduced .The vast majority of specialist family lawyers put cohabitation reform as the number one priority for family law reform.
In the meantime cohabitants should take advice on life and death breakups to secure a more certain future.