Family law organisation Resolution has called for the introduction of new legislation for cohabitees.
Couples who live together without marrying should be new rights over property and assets if their relationship ends, the organisation declared. Currently only married couples have an automatic right to financial protection in the event of divorce.
Resolution added its voice to recent declarations by senior judicial figures.
Delivering the Michael Farmer Memorial Lecture earlier this month, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, declared that:
“If a marriage is terminated by divorce the court has power to redistribute the matrimonial assets between the spouses. There is no such relief for cohabitants when their relationship breaks down, however long the relationship has lasted. This is an injustice which has been recognised as long as I have been in the law. Reform is desperately needed”.
And in a separate speech given just two days before, High Court judge Mr Justice Mostyn bluntly stated:
“I…bridle at the implication that in some way a marriage is a better form of relationship than a non-marital one. It is not the role of the state (in my humble opinion) to go round telling people how they should form their relationships.”
According to Resolution chair Jo Edwards, the debate should move on from whether or not a couple chooses to marry.
“It’s not about whether people should get married or not…It’s time for the law to recognise that society has changed and afford more protection to this huge section of the British population.”
Cohabitation is the fastest-growing type of household in the UK, she noted.
Although England currently lacks any legal protection for cohabitants’ property rights, the Family Law (Scotland) Act has offered some limited protection to cohabitants north of the border for more than eight years.
Meanwhile, in a precedent-setting English case also reported this month, a man who cohabited with a woman for 12 years was ordered to pay her £28,500 when the relationship ended, on the basis of promises he was reported to have made to her. The judge said the man was acting “unconscionably” and ordered him to pay her enough to set up a similar home to the one she had been living in when they met.
Resolution represents family lawyers and other professionals across England and Wales interested in promoting a “non-confrontational” approach to family law.