A survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics has concluded that unmarried Cohabiting Couple Families are the fastest growing family type in the UK, with nearly half of those families having dependant children living with them.
However there is still no real protection in law for these families, should either party find themselves in a financial predicament as a result of the breakdown of the relationship.
Many people still hold the incorrect belief that there is such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. In fact a British Social Attitudes survey conducted in 2008 concluded that 51% of people asked believed that unmarried couples who lived together probably had the same rights as married couples. This is simply not the case.
Where the parties have children together there is some limited recourse available via the Court or Child Maintenance Service but the Court’s powers in these circumstances are very restricted and the Child Maintenance Service are generally limited to applying the government prescribed calculation.
Conversely couples who are married or are Civil Partners, have the protection of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which gives the Court a wide range of powers to ensure that both parties can adjust to the separation without undue financial hardship. There is no equivalent legislation for Couples who are not married or Civil Partners.
Politicians have woken up to the need for such legislation yet the Cohabitation Rights bill, intended to address the rights of Cohabiting Couples, is still only in the early stages of passing through Parliament.
Many couples are therefore entering into Cohabitation Agreements. A properly prepared and entered into Cohabitation Agreement can determine shares in the family home, deal with the ownership of personal property and provide for one party to pay some form of financial maintenance or lump sum to the other party upon separation. It can therefore offer the protection which is currently unavailable to these families.
It is however imperative that such an Agreement is prepared by a Specialist Family Lawyer to ensure that it has the best possible chance of being enforceable.
Chris Brown, solicitor
*Previously printed in Discovering Bourne