The Liberal Democrats have passed a motion calling for greater financial and property rights for unmarried couples when their relationship ends.
The motion also calls for reform of the law on intestacy (death without a valid will), so that the surviving partner in a cohabiting couple could benefit from the estate of the deceased person under certain conditions.
Members at the party’s conference in Glasgow adopted the motion moved by life peer Lord Marks QC.
He told delegates:
“More and more people choose to live together before – or instead of – getting married or entering into a civil partnership. In 1996 there were about less than 3 million people cohabiting in the UK. By 2012 that figure had almost doubled to 5.9 million. More cohabiting couples – about 38 per cent of them – are having children. Yet there is still widespread confusion about their position in law. In a British Social Attitudes survey in 2006 survey no less than 58 per cent of respondents thought that cohabiting couples who split up were probably or definitely in the same position as married couples. The myth of the common law marriage is widespread. But it is just that – a myth – without any foundation in law.”
The proposal claimed:
“The present lack of provision protecting cohabiting couples upon relationship breakdown is unsatisfactory and unfair to them and their children.”
The newly passed motion calls for: “the implementation without delay of proposals giving cohabiting couples fair and reasonable redress upon relationship breakdown and upon intestacy, based upon the proposals made in the Law Commission‘s 2007 and 2011 reports.”
The Law Commission’s 2007 report Cohabitation: the Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown proposed new legal rights for people in cohabiting relationships if they had living together a certain period or had children.
It was rejected by the then Labour government in 2009.
The 2011 report, Intestacy and Family Provision Claims on Death, made similar financial proposals for people whose cohabiting partner had died.
The motion is now official Liberal Democrat policy.