Last Updated on: 8th December 2023, 10:54 am
With the New Year’s arrival, it’s a pivotal time for many couples to consider advancing their relationships. Increasingly, couples are choosing to cohabit without marriage, often unaware of the lack of legal protection in such arrangements. This festive season, cohabiting couples should focus their Christmas wishes on the enactment of the Cohabitation Rights Bill.
The trend of cohabiting in the UK has significantly risen, from 20.6% in 2011 to 24.3% in 2021, with 3.6 million unmarried couples living together in 2023. Despite this shift towards cohabitation over marriage, cohabiting couples in England and Wales still lack equivalent rights and protections, which can lead to serious financial issues if the relationship dissolves.
Imagine a scenario with John and Debbie, a cohabiting couple expecting a child. Debbie contributes to the mortgage and upkeep, treating the house as a family home. However, if the relationship ends after ten years, Debbie, with no legal claim to the property, could face financial hardship, with only potential child maintenance to rely on.
While Scotland and Northern Ireland offer cohabitation protections, England and Wales do not. The Cohabitation Rights Bill, introduced in 2019, aims to grant cohabiting couples rights similar to those married, including financial settlements and inheritance rights in the event of a breakup.
The bill proposes rights for cohabitating couples who have lived together for three years or have a child, aligning their legal status with married couples in aspects of financial settlements and child maintenance.
Despite its significance, the bill’s progress has been sluggish, and the UK government recently dismissed recommendations for enhanced legal protection for cohabiting couples. The delay is attributed to the complexities and costs involved in establishing a new legal framework for cohabitation.
In the absence of a definite timeline for the bill and the current legal ambiguity around cohabitation, obtaining specialised legal advice is crucial for cohabitees. Vasoulla Constantinou, an experienced solicitor from Tyrer Roxburgh Solicitors, emphasizes the importance of a cohabitation agreement, advising couples to determine asset division before involving lawyers.
The cost of a cohabitation agreement starts at around £599, but not having one could result in more significant financial implications. Therefore, for those planning to cohabit in the coming year, adding a Cohabitation Agreement to their Christmas list is a wise decision.