The latest House of Commons report released in July 2022 again highlights the enormous disparity between the rights of married couples and cohabitees, however long they have been together, as well as the difference not only when they separate but also in the death of one of the couple.
Common law marriage myth?
The House of Commons latest report clearly expresses, yet again, the large percentage of the population that still believes in the “common law marriage myth”, namely the entirely incorrect belief that, after a couple has been together for a period of years, the cohabitants acquire similar rights to a married couple.
Dispelling the myth
The reality is that this is simply incorrect. While there are certain opportunities where children are concerned under Schedule 1 of the Children’s Act, generally anybody wanting to make a claim has to rely on the complexities of property and trust law rather than having the flexibility of the rules that apply to a married couple.
The greatest impact of the above has been on women, and especially women from a minority ethnic background as they are more likely to suffer relationship disadvantages. The committee is so concerned about this that part of their proposals includes a suggestion the Government mounts an advertising campaign to point out the correct position.
Modern family unit
It also recognises that significant reform is required to the rules affecting relationship breakdown to recognise the social realities of the modern family unit and protect the long- term relationships whether they are married or not. The reforms suggested by the Royal Commission more than fifteen years ago in 2007 are favoured with an opt-out scheme for cohabitants which maintains the distinction between married and unmarried couples. However, it also provides certainty about who is a cohabitee and their rights whilst at the same time maintaining individual autonomy. The report also recognises the inequalities of the rules on the death of a cohabitee as opposed to a spouse and recommends changes to the rules there. That is a whole and different subject.
It is disappointing that the area of cohabitants rights has been recognised as in need of major reform for many years but that the rules still remain unchanged. If you are cohabiting and want to understand the rights and know what you can do about it, because there are steps that can still be taken when you are together, or equally if you are considering ending your relationship, you should still contact our team to understand your options in what remains a complex area of the law. Our Family team are always here to help.