Nearly 60 per cent of MPs support cohabitation law reform

Couple on benchFifty-seven per cent of MPs believe current laws should be changed to provide greater protection for couples who live together without getting married, new research reveals.

According to the survey, commissioned by family law association Resolution, more than two thirds (69 per cent) of MPs also report a widespread belief in ‘common law marriage’ amongst their constituents – the mistaken belief that couples who live together for a certain period of time acquire financial and property rights similar to those of married couples. In reality cohabiting couples currently have very few rights if their relationships end and are only automatically entitled to assets held in their own names.

According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 5.9 million people in cohabiting relationships last year, almost twice the 1996 figure of 2.9 million.

Resolution’s Steve Kirwan said:

“This poll of MPs confirms the findings of a public survey in 2008, in which 51% of respondents believed, incorrectly, that cohabitants had the same rights as married couples. And yet the current situation for people who live together in England and Wales, more often than not, creates injustice and hardship. This isn’t about whether you believe people should be married or not, this is about ensuring that people are aware of their legal rights – and that fact that more than two thirds of MPs identify this as a problem clearly points to the need for reform.”

Mr Kirwan added:

“Despite the myth that there is such a thing as “common law” marriage – which hasn’t existed since 1753 – it is possible to live together with someone for decades and even to have children together, and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner’s welfare. That is simply wrong, it needs to change, and it needs to change now.”

The Liberal Democrats are due to debate plans to reform the law at their conference today.

Photo by Dave Emmett via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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5 comments

Luke - September 16, 2013 at 6:37pm

“This isn’t about whether you believe people should be married or not, this is about ensuring that people are aware of their legal rights – and that fact that more than two thirds of MPs identify this as a problem clearly points to the need for reform.”
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I agree it is a problem and I totally agree that people should be made aware of their legal rights – but as I’ve said before this is solved by a campaign to inform people – and it should start in the schools.

You do NOT solve ignorance by changing the law to cater for that ignorance – that is a patronising position in my view – treating the general public like children who are incapable of understanding marriage and cohabitation when it is properly explained to them.

Stephanie Bamberger - September 17, 2013 at 12:45am

Luke,

I agree with you. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to disabuse people of the idea that they are common-law married in California. We abolished common-law marriage by statute in 1895, but there is still the widely-held belief that living together for 5, 7, or however many years means you’re married. In fact, only 9 states (out of 50) in the US allow people to form common law marriages, so I would agree that widespread education is necessary.

Tulsa Divorce Lawyer Matt Ingham - September 17, 2013 at 2:07am

I agree that reform is needed because the younger generations tend to disfavor traditional marriage

Howard Worsley - September 18, 2013 at 7:49am

Women would not get married if placed in the same situation as men are today. Forget the financial side, just trying to see your children is a nightmare and expensive in the Family Courts.

Stella - December 17, 2014 at 4:52pm

I agree many young people and those that are embarking on new relationships following the breakdown of a marriage tend to want to not enter into matrimony again – it is a positive move and the right one

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