Cohabitation law is failing 3.3 million families, says Resolution

Figures published today by the Office of National Statistics reveal that there are now 3.3 million cohabiting couple families in the UK, with the number more than doubling over the last twenty years.

Yet should these couples separate, they currently have little or no legal protection - despite the myth of ‘common law marriage.’ The family law group Resolution today said that the high growth in cohabiting couples is further evidence that the law needs to catch up with modern British society.

Nigel Shepherd, Resolution Chair, said:

“These ONS figures are further proof that more and more couples are choosing to live together and bring up their children without marrying. Sadly, some of those relationships will come to an end at some point. This is a feature of our modern society that is here to stay and unfortunately current cohabitation law is failing to provide them with the rights some of them mistakenly think they have.

“Rather than ignoring these 3.3 million families, our lawmakers must respond and introduce safety net legislation that will provide legal protection and fair outcomes at the time of a couple's separation.”

Last year Resolution released its Manifesto for Family Law calling for the introduction of some rights for cohabiting couples when they separate. Research in 2013 from relationships charity One Plus One shows that almost half (47%) of the British public believe in the myth of “common law marriage”, the notion that cohabiting couples have similar legal rights to married people.

Family lawyer Graeme Fraser, Resolution’s spokesman on cohabitation law, said:

“Under current cohabitation law it’s possible to live with someone for decades and even to have children together and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner when the relationship breaks down. This can have a huge impact on women and children, particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her work to raise a family”.