There are over two million cohabiting couples in England and Wales and it is estimated that by 2031 the figure will have risen to over 3.8 million. Over 740,000 cohabiting couples have 1.27 million dependent children living with them. Despite the rise in such couples over the years, more than half misunderstand their rights on separation.
The Law Commission reported in 2007 that there was a need for urgent reform of the law in this area, but the government has so far failed to take action. As a result, Resolution (a national association of family lawyers) has backed Lord Lester in his introduction of a Private Member’s Bill into Parliament.
The Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on Friday, 13th March 2009 and anticipates the making of financial orders for cohabitees upon separation, including property transfers, lump sum payments and maintenance. Applications will be dealt with upon a different basis, in respect of cohabiting couples, from those in respect of married couples. There will be a presumption that separating couples should be financially self supporting as soon as reasonably practicable but claims will be limited to reasonable needs.
Orders will be available to couples who have been living together for more than two years or who have had children together. It is proposed that a couple may opt out in advance by entering into a cohabitation agreement, but it is likely that the court will have power to overturn such an agreement in circumstances where to do otherwise would be unfair.
The Bill highlights the difficult situation that exists within the current law and is deserving of serious consideration by MPs when it reaches the House of Commons.