Letter calling for greater rights for cohabitants

27 Nov 2017

More than six million people are cohabiting — living together without being married — in the UK. It is the fastest-growing family type. Society is changing, but sadly laws in England and Wales lag behind. Many still believe in the myth of the “common-law marriage”, mistakenly thinking they have legal protection if the relationship ends. They don’t.

It is possible to have lived with someone for decades and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility when the relationship breaks down. This situation most commonly leads to injustices for women and children, particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her work to raise a family.

It is now ten years since the Law Commission recommended that the government act to give cohabiting couples greater protection, yet successive ministers of all parties have failed to do so. It is time for this to change. The government must legislate to provide the growing number of cohabiting couples with basic rights should they separate.

As the modern family evolves, our laws must evolve as well. Families shouldn’t have to wait any longer for progress in this area.


Nigel Shepherd, chairman, Resolution;

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames;

Lord Hope of Craighead;

Chris Sherwood, CEO, Relate;

Penny Mansfield, director, One Plus One;

Penny Scott, chairwoman, Family Law Committee, The Law Society;

Andrew Langdon, QC,chairman, Bar Council;

Linda Ford, CEO, CILEx;

Estelle du Boulay, director, Rights of Women;

Philip J Marshall, QC, chairman, Family Law Bar Association;

Martha Cover and Debbie Singleton, co-chairwomen, Association of Lawyers for Children;

Steve Hynes, director, Legal Action Group;

Jenny Beck and Nicola Mackintosh, QC (Hon), co-chairwomen, Legal Aid Practitioners Group;

Rebecca Giraud, director, Only Mums;

Bob Greig, director, Only Dads;

Julie Bishop, director, Law Centres Network;

Martin Desborough, CEO, The Family Initiative;

Anne Barlow, Professor of Family Law and Policy, University of Exeter