Graeme Fraser, a Partner at Finchley law firm OGR Stock Denton Solicitors, has welcomed the passing of the second reading of the Cohabitation Rights Bill at the House of Lords but says greater action is needed urgently to end the devastating myths that surround common law marriage.
Under the bill, cohabitees would not enjoy the same rights as divorcing couples, but in appropriate circumstances, the bill would give the courts the power to “adjust the financial position of qualifying cohabitants on relationship breakdown”.
This would effectively spread the financial costs, benefits and consequences fairly between separating couples, offering a degree of redress that is currently unavailable.
Unfortunately, many myths still pervade about common law marriage, as the latest British Social Attitudes Survey. It revealed that 46 per cent of people in England and Wales believe that cohabiting couples form a common law marriage and they are, therefore, afforded certain rights in regards to each other’s finances and estates, which do not exist.
Incredibly, this response barely differs from attitudes more than a decade ago, despite the rate of cohabitation rising rapidly.
In the time between the first British Social Attitudes Survey in 1995 and the latest report last year, the number of cohabitees has more than doubled to 6.6 million people in the UK.
Responding to the passing of the second reading and the speed at which new rights for cohabiting couples are being introduced, Graeme said: “While it is great news that this latest debate in the House of Lords means that policy makers are becoming increasingly aware of the plight of cohabitees who misunderstand their legal rights resulting from the common law marriage myth, it is time for the Government to act and support these urgently needed reforms.
“It must surely be a priority for the State to protect those families left vulnerable when a relationship breaks down and on death as a result of outdated laws not fit for purpose.”