Home Family & Relationship New Survey on Cohabitation: Law Firm Warns of Dangers if Cohabiting Couples Are Given Automatic Legal Protection

New Survey on Cohabitation: Law Firm Warns of Dangers if Cohabiting Couples Are Given Automatic Legal Protection

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A brand new survey conducted by Stowe Family Law has revealed that 92% of people believe that cohabitees should have legal protection. Currently, cohabiting couples have no legal rights to financial security or inheritance in the event of separation or death, a source of much contention given this is the fastest-growing type of family in the UK.

Two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed by the UK’s largest family law firm say that cohabiting couples should have the same rights and protections as married couples, including a right to inheritance and financial support if they separate. Worryingly, 25% of respondents believe these rights should be in place from the moment a couple moves in together.

86% of those surveyed believe that if legal rights were introduced to cohabiting couples, it should be an opt-in system so that people can make this choice consciously, despite widespread calls for cohabitation reform suggesting an opt-out system.

In response to these new findings, lawyers at Stowe warn of the dangers that would ensue should couples automatically be given legal protection upon moving in together, including the concerning financial ramifications, particularly on long-term finances like pensions.

Samantha Farndale, partner at Stowe Family Law, says: “Cohabitation reform has long been on the agenda for family lawyers, but the results from the recent Stowe survey highlight that the public overwhelmingly (92%) wants cohabiting couples to have some legal rights and protection should their relationship end.

Despite widespread beliefs, cohabiting couples currently have minimal rights, and the concept of common-law marriage is a complete myth. This means that should the relationship end, many people will find themselves in challenging situations, as there are no legal protective measures regarding finances to fall back on.

Although a legal framework for cohabiting couples is needed, any legislation in this area would need to be constructed very carefully. The statistic that 25% of people think legal rights, including the right to inheritance, should be in place from the moment a couple moves in together is worrying. Introducing a system like this could be incredibly damaging, with individuals moving in quickly to potentially financially profit from their partner.

Allowing legal rights at this early stage in a relationship could also have lengthy financial ramifications, particularly for long-term finances like pensions. Assuming a marriage-like relationship when a couple has only just begun to live together could put financially vulnerable people at risk.

Any potential financial protections for cohabiting couples will need clear boundaries, for example, a time period before they apply, if a couple has a child together, or an opt-in or opt-out system. Interestingly, this is reflected in the survey results, with 86% of respondents agreeing that any laws should be opt-in.

Currently, cohabiting couples can choose to put a cohabitation agreement in place, which lays out what will happen to finances, property, children, etc. should the couple break up. However, while they can be persuasive in court if disputes arise, they are not legally binding in England and Wales.

Despite public demand and calls for change, cohabitation reform feels unknown and a long way off. But what is certain is that any change would be complex, and the delivery of any law would need to be done carefully, with robust criteria in place to minimise financial vulnerability.

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