Provide at least basic legal rights for couples who live together if they separate

The problem

There are currently nearly six million people who live together in the UK without being married or in a civil partnership. Cohabitees are the fastest growing family type in the UK. And yet, in England and Wales, these people have little or no legal protection if they separate.

47% of the public aged 18-34 think cohabiting couples have the same legal rights as their married counterparts. They do not.

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. This needs to change. Currently, a rapidly growing proportion of the population have limited rights or ability to access support if their relationship breaks down.

Our solution

Resolution calls for a legal framework of rights and responsibilities when unmarried couples who live together split up, to provide some legal protection and secure fair outcomes at the time of a couple’s separation or on the death of one partner. Other countries, such as Australia and Canada, and closer to home Scotland, recognise these relationships and provide legal protection. The Law Commission has recommended changes in this area.

Resolution proposes that cohabitants meeting eligibility criteria indicating a committed relationship would have a right to apply for certain financial orders if they separate. This right would be automatic unless the couple chooses to ‘opt out’.

The court would be able to make the same types of orders as they do currently on divorce, but on a very different and more limited basis. 

Awards might include payments for child care costs to enable a primary carer parent to work.

MPs also support reform, with a 2013 Resolution poll showing more than 57% believe the law needs to be reformed to afford protection to unmarried couples upon separation.