With over 3.4 million couples cohabiting in England and Wales, cohabiting partners have, in recent years, been the fastest growing family type in England and Wales. On 28 April, the Women & Equalities Committee launched an enquiry into the rights of cohabiting partners, noting that partners who cohabit do not currently have the same legal protections as married couples or those who are in a civil partnership at the end of the relationship (whether that be due to separation or death). The Committee has announced that they will be considering matters such as whether there should be a legal definition of cohabitation, what legislative changes, if any, should be put in place to better protect the rights of cohabiting partners in the event of death or separation and whether cohabiting partners should have the same rights as those who are married or in a civil partnership.
Claire Yorke says:
Many of those in cohabiting relationships operate under the misconception that they fall within a special legal category of 'common law spouse' which entitles them to legal protection akin to that of a spouse. As a result, they can make decisions through their life in relation to how their finances are managed, or whether one gives up a career to raise children on the assumption that they will have protection in the event that the relationship ends. It is frequently only after the relationship has ended, whether by way of separation or death, that they discover this position to be incorrect. We consider it imperative that the law relating to the status of cohabitants is revisited and that greater protection is put in place for those who may be left vulnerable at the end of a relationship, whilst always respecting the autonomy of a couple to make different arrangements, should they choose to do so.