Today I have been thinking about cohabitants as the Office of National Statistics recently released information which reveals the increasing rise of cohabiting couples in the UK. The number of cohabiting couples increased from 2.2 million in 2003 to 2.9 million in 2013. Further, the number of dependent children living in opposite sex cohabiting couple families rose from 1.4 million to 1.9 million over the same period.
Many of us have the misconceived perception that cohabiting couples enjoy the same rights on the breakdown of their relationship as married couples. In fact, this is not the case and many cohabiting couples are unaware that the law provides little assistance to them on the breakdown of their relationship. Whereas when a marriage breaks down, a spouse can have claims concerning the likes of child maintenance, property and pension rights. But, what about cohabiting couples?
Well, since I am from Scotland I feel that I should start with the Scottish case of Gow v Grant . This produced a landmark judgement providing additional rights for cohabitants on the breakdown of their relationship. The case was based on the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, section 28, which allows a cohabitant to apply to the court for financial provision where the cohabitation ends otherwise than by death of one of the cohabitants. Mrs Gow was able to claim financial relief from Mr Grant as she was able to prove that she had suffered economic disadvantage from the cohabitation. Lady Hale stated that the law in Scotland is commendable as it does not “impose upon unmarried couples the responsibilities of marriage but redresses the gains and losses flowing from their relationship….English and Welsh cohabitants and their children deserve no less.” Well said Lady Hale. And she is correct, English and Welsh cohabitants deserve their rights to be protected on breakdown of their relationship and that is exactly what is occurring in Parliament now. The Cohabitation Rights Bill 2013-2014 had its first reading in the House of Lords at the beginning of October. This Bill, which I am advocating, will provide cohabitants with additional rights and this is clearly needed when one looks at the increasing numbers of cohabitants in England and Wales.
The Bill, which can be viewed on the Parliament website: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2013-2014/0049/14049.pdf gives an idea of the rights that cohabitants will receive. This will mainly be a “financial settlement order” which can include a lump sum, transfer of property, property settlements, sale of property and a pension sharing order. Further, there is an “opt out” provision for those cohabitants who do not wish to be able to claim for a financial settlement order. The Bill also intends to change the law on intestacy to include qualifying cohabitants. However, I know from my studies that a Bill at its first stage in Parliament will most likely be extremely varied by the time it, if it even does, reaches Royal Assent and so I will be keeping my eye on the progress of this bill and will be sure you update you all on it.