Fifty-seven per cent of MPs believe current laws should be changed to provide greater protection for couples who live together without getting married, new research reveals.
According to the survey, commissioned by family law association Resolution, more than two thirds (69 per cent) of MPs also report a widespread belief in ‘common law marriage’ amongst their constituents – the mistaken belief that couples who live together for a certain period of time acquire financial and property rights similar to those of married couples. In reality cohabiting couples currently have very few rights if their relationships end and are only automatically entitled to assets held in their own names.
According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 5.9 million people in cohabiting relationships last year, almost twice the 1996 figure of 2.9 million.
Resolution’s Steve Kirwan said:
“This poll of MPs confirms the findings of a public survey in 2008, in which 51% of respondents believed, incorrectly, that cohabitants had the same rights as married couples. And yet the current situation for people who live together in England and Wales, more often than not, creates injustice and hardship. This isn’t about whether you believe people should be married or not, this is about ensuring that people are aware of their legal rights – and that fact that more than two thirds of MPs identify this as a problem clearly points to the need for reform.”
Mr Kirwan added:
“Despite the myth that there is such a thing as “common law” marriage – which hasn’t existed since 1753 – it is possible to live together with someone for decades and even to have children together, and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner’s welfare. That is simply wrong, it needs to change, and it needs to change now.”
The Liberal Democrats are due to debate plans to reform the law at their conference today.