The Office of National Statistics have published data which confirms that cohabitee relationships are on the rise. These relationships have grown by 132% since 1996 to almost 1.3 million in the UK. Couples are still, however, under the illusion that these relationships afford them similar protection to marriage. This is untrue. In fact, cohabitees have very few claims against each other and the financially weaker party is largely unprotected in the event of relationship breakdown. The law in this area is desperate for reform and revision. The Cohabitation Rights Bill is in the early stages of passing through parliament but for the time being couples are wise to speak to a solicitor to understand their rights and how best to protect themselves and their children in the event of relationship breakdown.
There is still a huge misconception that long-term living together offers similar rights to being married, which is not only untrue but also dangerous. “Common-law marriage” is a complete myth. Cohabitees are treated pretty much like total strangers in the law. Nothing comes to them by virtue of their relationship, so whether you’ve been together two months, or 20 years, you will be left with the same – and this may be very little. You might get something if you establish some general property rights, and if there are children there might be some provision for them until they reach adulthood, but that’s often it.