A leading family lawyer has urged unmarried couples who live together to carefully protect their finances in case of separation, after a Whitehall rejection to reform cohabitation laws.
Rupinder Nandra, a partner at Shropshire law firm mfg Solicitors, has issued the alert as cohabiting couples have no general legal status, unlike those who are married or in civil partnerships.
Widely respected divorce expert Ms Nandra, is encouraging couples to draw up an official cohabitation agreement to ensure each person’s intentions in relation to property, finances, living arrangements and child maintenance are clear at the outset should the relationship break down.
She said: “If you’re not married then unfortunately your legal protection can be limited if you break up – a position which remains unchanged due to the government not reforming legislation.
“Many people mistakenly believe that if couples live together for long enough, or have children, they become ‘common law spouses’ and automatically develop legal responsibility to support each other financially. This is a widespread misconception.
“It is not always clear who owns what when a relationship ends. If an unmarried couple splits up, the courts cannot divide finances or property between the two, just because it might be fair.
“Whereas married couples who divorce can have their property legally divided, unmarried couples without proof of ownership do not have the same rights. It is therefore hugely important that couples take time to consider financial arrangements and have an agreement drawn up, despite it being a difficult conversation to have.
Resolution, a group that promotes a non-confrontational approach to resolving family disputes, have long called on the government to reform laws around cohabitation to give parties more legal protection, including running a high-profile awareness raising week every November.
Despite their efforts, the government has rejected the motion - although it has accepted recommendations on providing improved guidance and support to make cohabitants more aware of their legal rights.
Cohabiting couple families are now the fastest growing type of family in the UK - with around 3.3million partners now in that bracket.