Resolution welcomes proposed increased protection for unmarried couples

31 May 2006

Commenting on today’s release of the Law Commission paper, David Allison of the 5,000 strong family Law Group Resolution said, “Resolution welcomes the Law Commission’s proposals to make the law for couples who live together fairer.

Under the existing law, many people who live with someone rather than marry may suffer significant injustice and financial hardship if their relationship breaks down, or if their partner dies. Most unmarried couples are ignorant of the lack of protection or rights – most believe, wrongly, that they are protected by the so-called status of ‘common law husband or wife’ and only find out that this is a myth when things go wrong.

“Resolution has been campaigning for clearer rights for separating or bereaved cohabitees for the past 6 years. We are delighted that serious proposals are now being made to provide some legal protection for unmarried couples.

“What is being proposed is a safety net provision for people who have suffered an economic disadvantage because of the relationship. For example, if a partner gives up work to care for children and as a consequence has no capital, income or pension provision, and if the relationship breaks down many years later she will under these proposals, be able to make a financial claim.

“The House of Lords’ recent judgment in the divorce cases of Miller and McFarlane puts the deficiencies of legal protections for cohabitees into even starker relief. Living together is not the same as being married but for some couples who live together, many of the characteristics of the relationships are similar:
an equal partnership;
mutual dependency and support;
one partner – usually the woman – giving up a career and the opportunity to build up capital and a pension fund to raise children.

“In the absence of any laws to protect cohabitants, there is no provision for a judge to take these factors into account and arrive at fair solutions which recognise the contributions of both people in a relationship. These proposals will not allow cohabitants to make claims at the sort of level in Miller and McFarlane, but they will prevent unmarried women in similar positions from coming out of the relationship with nothing, as they often do at the moment.

“We hope that the proposals made today will result in a much needed change in the law soon”.

The Law Commission’s paper and further information can be found at www.lawcom.gov.uk/cohabitation.htm