Christchurch Solicitors Respond to Lords Call for Increased Rights for Cohabiting Couples

Williams Thompson support the call for increased rights for cohabiting couples following discussions on the second reading of the Cohabitation Rights by Members of the House of Lords.

Members of the House of Lords, including Lord Lexden and Lord Marks, have called for an increase in rights for cohabiting couples, especially for cohabiting siblings. This call follows the second reading of the Cohabiting Rights Bill, which was originally drawn up in 2017.

Cohabiting couple is a term used to describe two individuals who are not married but live together. The current number of cohabiting couples in the UK has grown considerably over the past few decades. Reports from the Office for National Statistics show that in 1996 there were 1.5million cohabiting couples in the UK, compared to 3.3million cohabiting couples in 2017.

Under current law, cohabiting couples do not have the same levels of rights as married couples when it comes to finances, separation and death. For example, if a cohabiting partner dies without a will, the survivor will not automatically inherit anything.

In Dorset, over 15,000 households are categorised as cohabiting, with nearly 2000 of these households based in Christchurch. Williams Thompson, award-winning Christchurch solicitors specialising in family law, have seen an increase in cohabiting couples requiring legal services to sort their joint finance disputes. As the current laws for cohabiting couples differ from married couples, the separation and inheritance process provide challenges for family lawyers.

Emma Hamilton Cole, Partner & Head of Family Law at Williams Thompson Solicitors LLP, said:

“There is a large portion of the Dorset population living as cohabiting couples. Current law in the UK makes things very difficult for these couples as married couples have a wide amount of rights and protection on matters such as financial disputes, whereas the law isn’t as clear for cohabiting couples. There is no legal concept of a common-law marriage’”

The Cohabiting Rights Bill is a private member’s bill first introduced by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames. This bill seeks increased protections for persons who have lived as a cohabiting couple and a framework of rights following separation or the death of a cohabitant. Lord Lexden, Conservative member of the House of Lords, spoke regarding cohabiting siblings’ rights to form a civil partnership. Platonic long-term cohabiting couples currently have no protection from inheritance tax, whereas cohabiting couples in a civil partnership do have protections.

Emma Hamilton Cole said:

 “The Cohabitation Rights Bill introduced by Lord Marks will provide cohabiting couples with more rights. Especially with such a large number of cohabiting couples in the UK, it is vital that the law is changed to protect this group and limit the challenges faced by cohabiting couples in issues such as separation and death.

“At Williams Thompson Solicitors, we regularly see cohabiting couples to make living together agreements which helps to avoid issues on separation. We welcome any change that will provide greater certainty and enable cohabiting couples to plan and be advised more definitively.”

The Cohabiting Rights Bill will now be taken to the committee and report stage, followed by the third reading. After this, the bill will be read in the House of Commons.

For more information on cohabiting couples, visit: www.williamsthompson.co.uk