Cohabiting couples left out in the cold this winter

08 Dec 2006

More than 3,918 ‘gay weddings’ have taken place in London under new civil partnership laws introduced a year ago, but local family lawyers warn that millions of cohabiting couples are being left out in the cold under the current legal system.

According to figures published this week by the Office for National Statistics, 15,500 same sex couples have entered civil partnerships in the UK following the law change in December 2005.

Whilst local lawyer and member of campaigning family law group Resolution David Allison, welcomes the changes to the law and the rights it gives to same sex couples, he believes it highlights a perennial problem for cohabiting couples: “There are more than two million heterosexual and same sex couples living together in the UK, and many of them believe they have the same rights as married couples if they split.

“Civil partnerships have given same sex couples similar rights as married couples, but many same sex and heterosexual couples decide not to marry or enter a civil partnership, leaving them in a very vulnerable position if the relationship ends. All too often one of the partners is left with nothing.”

Resolution has been campaigning for changes to the current law to provide a ‘safety net’ for cohabiting couples. Family and justice minister Harriet Harman recently announced plans to change the laws relating to cohabitation to give couples who have lived together for two years a claim on each others’ pension, property and income if they split. The government will also address property and inheritance rights in the event of one partner dying.

David Allison says that Resolution welcomes the decision to reform the current law, which it believes is outdated and unfair, but believes that a measured decision is needed to ensure adequate provision for separating couples. The group is currently in talks with MPs to help ensure the right provision is made.

“Our proposals would give couples who want it protection if their relationship breaks down. It would also allow couples to opt out if they want to. We want to make sure that each person can be financially independent as quickly as possible after a relationship ends, and we acknowledge that help is sometimes needed to enable one to re-adjust and get back on his or her feet,” he said.

The aim of the Resolution proposals is to ensure a fair division of a couple’s assets if they split up. After a couple had lived together for 2 years, they would allow a court to look at all the financial circumstances and order a fair solution taking into account what each person has contributed to the relationship.

Note to editors:
Resolution is an association of over 5000 members who are committed to promoting a non-confrontational atmosphere in which family law matters are dealt with in a sensitive, constructive and cost-effective way. It sets high standards of good practice in family law and runs an accreditation scheme for specialist family lawyers.

Figures relate only to civil partnerships taking place in the constituent countries of the UK. They do not include civil partnerships of UK residents taking place abroad but may include non UK residents who form a partnership in the UK.
1 Data are based on area of formation and not area of residence
2 The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force on 5 December 2005 in the UK, the first day couples could give notice of their intention to form a civil partnership. The first day that couples could normally form a partnership was 21 December 2005 in England and Wales (18 were formed under special arrangements before these dates).