Cohabitation is defined as two parties living ‘as husband and wife’ in the Family Law Act 1996 and the Child Support Act 1991. The Office for National Statistics has shown a rise in cohabiting couples rising by over 25% since 2008. There are several factors that are considered as the reason for the rise in cohabitation:
For some couples the view is that cohabiting is a preferred choice that takes the “hassle” out of being married. Cohabitee couples are more able to maintain financial independence and feel less pressure to merge their financial arrangements.
There is the ability to swiftly end their relationship when things are not working out, there is no public, lengthy, often acrimonious and sometimes costly divorce process. The blame game and shame of ending a marriage is averted.
Whilst marriage can carry a religious symbolism to some, there has certainly been a shift in attitudes towards religion with a decrease in the importance of religion. With less religious ideology impacting relationships there is quite simply less pressure to get married.
Whilst there is an increase in cohabiting couples, family law legislation has not caught up with the times and does not offer the same rights and protection to cohabitees. Cohabiting couples remain at a disadvantage when compared to rights given to married couples. Unless couples have that quite often difficult conversation about what will happen to their assets on separation, assets built up over the course of the relationship will not be treated in the same way that the assets of married couples are distributed. Furthermore, an unmarried father will not automatically be granted parental responsibility, as paternity of an unmarried father is not automatically recognised in the way that a married father would, unless the unmarried father is named on the birth certificate.
One solution is to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement. A Cohabitation Agreement allows the parties to formalise their arrangements following separation. Including the couple’s intentions in relation to financial matters and child arrangements. As long as a certain criteria is met, Cohabitation Agreements can form the basis for the parties’ separation in a defined and collaborative manner, often avoiding costly and lengthy litigation. Just as important is to note that assets will not automatically pass to a cohabiting partner upon death unless formalised by a will.
Our experienced family lawyers will be pleased to discuss all your options and advise you on the best way to protect your rights in the event of separation.