Protecting cohabiting couples

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 claim 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.

Do you have questions about cohabitation? Speak to our team today.

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