The recent Labour Party Conference sees proposals made surrounding reform to cohabitation laws.
Emily Thornberry MP, the Shadow Attorney General, announced at the Labour Party Conference that a Labour government would create reform around cohabitation laws in the UK. In order to support the fastest growing family type and offer couples “proper” protection.
Emily Thornberry proposed that women would be given increased rights to accessing financial support if their relationship breaks down. At the conference, Emily vowed to make significant changes to help women being disproportionately mistreated by the justice system.
Labour has said it wants to give women who live with their partners the same rights, including over property, as married women should the relationship end. Labour have said that at present, the lack of protection for cohabiting couples means that favour leans towards the bigger earner in the relationship. Emily said that for too long, women in co-habiting couples have had no rights if the relationship ended. Little was said about the rights of anyone who finds themselves co-habiting, it was all geared towards women in the situation.
These proposed reforms would bring cohabiting couples the type of protection currently available to married couples.
There are currently more than 3.6 million cohabiting couples in the UK. In 2022, cohabiting couples made up 18% of all families, and accounted for ¾ of the total growth in family numbers in the last decade.
Currently, many cohabiting couples live believing they are protected under ‘common law marriage’. However, cohabiting couples have little to no protection should their relationship end or one spouse pass away without having made a will.
Natasha Grande, Head of Family at Wilsons Solicitors, said:
“Labour’s focus seems to have an unhelpful bias. Men and women suffer from the lack of reform of cohabitation rights. Unmarried couples are the fastest growing type of family unit and nearly half of them believe in common law marriage.
Cohabitees have no automatic right to inherit each other’s properties, pension in event of death, or rights to each other’s income. Property disputes are dealt with in accordance with land law or trust law.
Cohabitees with children are marginally better off, with the CMS governing child maintenance and the courts having powers to make financial provision for the benefit of children whilst they are in their minority.
It is no substitute for reform. The law can follow the model introduced in Scotland in 2006 (s25-29 of the Family Law Scotland Act). Reform was promised 20 years ago and then only introduced in Scotland. The laws in Scotland on cohabitees are sensible (though could benefit from some review as well), even as a start they could introduce the law in Scotland here and at least make something straightforward.”