Cross-party MPs call for more protections for cohabiting partners - Palmers Solicitors

Cross-party MPs call for more protections for cohabiting partners

Cross-party MPs call for more protections for cohabiting partners

A cross-party committee of MPs has published a report calling for greater protections for people in cohabiting relationships.

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee found that women were particularly at risk because of the lack of protections afforded to people in cohabiting relationships on the breakdown of the relationship or the death of a partner.

The report, The Rights of Cohabiting Partners, highlighted the myth of ‘common law marriage’ as a significant issue. Couples often assume that by living together or being in a relationship for a long time they automatically acquire rights akin to those enjoyed by married or civil partnered couples, which is not the case.

This is a widespread misunderstanding, with the report citing research that found that 46 per cent of people in England and Wales assumed cohabitation brought about a ‘common law marriage’, with the figure rising to 55 per cent amongst those with children.

In fact, as the cross-party MPs noted, people in cohabiting relationships enjoy very few rights at all upon the end of the relationship or the death of a partner, leaving people potentially facing destitution.

At the moment, there is no automatic right for a cohabiting partner to make a claim upon the family home on the breakdown of a relationship if they were not on the deed. Likewise, a non-owning partner would not automatically inherit the family home after the death of their partner.

The committee recommended that the Government follows proposals made by the Law Commission in 2007 to create a set of protections for cohabiting partners, with an opt-out available for those who do not want these protections.

It also called for rights for cohabiting partners to inherit the family home, without the need to pay Inheritance Tax bills.

Finally, the committee recommended that the Government runs a public information campaign to counter the myth of ‘common law marriage’ and ensure that the public is clear on the difference between marriage, civil partnership and cohabitation.

Surjit Verdi, a Director with Palmers who specialises in Family Law, said: “Any initiative which dispels the many misconceptions relating to the rights of cohabiting partners is to be welcomed.

“To provide greater legal certainty, it is possible for couples who live together to have a cohabitation agreement put in place. Most couples only concern themselves with what happens if one or the other of them dies.

“Unfortunately the main problems are caused upon separation rather than death and the majority of couples have nothing in place for this eventuality. People do not like to think, at the start of their relationship, about the possibility that it might break down, however this is the time when matters need to be considered.

“The benefit of putting in place a cohabitation benefit is that it is completely flexible and can be drawn up to state whatever the parties agree.

“Putting in place an agreement will provide a framework for what will happen if the relationship breaks down and creates certainty so both parties know where they stand as it provides a record of the parties intentions at that time.”

For more information on cohabitation agreements and putting in place legal safeguards to protect you and your partner, please get in touch with us.