A prominent Family lawyer has said that the Government should include cohabitation reform in the Queen’s Speech, as new official figures show that nearly 20 per cent of people aged 30-34 – almost a million people – in England and Wales are cohabiting.
Graeme Fraser, a Partner and Head of the Family department at Finchley-based OGR Stock Denton LLP, said that the figures show that the need for action is urgent and legislation should be included in the Queen’s Speech on Monday 14 October.
Unlike for married couples, when a cohabiting relationship ends there is no specific legal mechanism for dividing property fairly and partners who did not have a legal share in the family home can find themselves destitute.
At the same time, cohabiting couples are at a disadvantage when it comes to Inheritance Tax (IHT) and death benefits in comparison with married couples.
However, thanks to the myth of ‘common law marriage’ many cohabitants wrongly believe that they share the same rights as married couples.
Graeme Fraser, who is also Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation Committee, said: “Official statistics have repeatedly shown how quickly the number of cohabiting couples is rising.
“However, laws shaped by the social norms of the twentieth century are still governing twenty-first century relationships, potentially putting millions of people at risk of destitution in the event of the breakdown of their relationship or the death of a partner.
“With these new statistics showing a fifth of people in their early thirties are cohabiting, the need for action is urgent. People in this age group are often just getting onto the housing ladder and starting families, making them especially vulnerable to the consequences of relationship breakdown or the death of a partner.
“I would like to see legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech to introduce certain automatic rights for cohabiting couples who have lived together for a defined period of time or have children, unless they choose to opt-out of these rights.
“I hope this call will be supported by a Prime Minster who likes to characterise himself as a social liberal and who is himself in a cohabiting relationship.”
The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also show that an estimated 6.3 million adults in England and Wales are cohabiting, over a million more than in 2008.