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Communication is key to unlocking cohabitation rights

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By Caroline Keeley

The office of National Statistics recently revealed that there are now 3.3 million cohabitating couple families in the UK compared to less than half that figure twenty years ago, yet there is still little legal protection afforded to this increasing demographic.

In November 2016, Resolution, the national organisation for specialist family solicitors, hosted the National Cohabitation Debate at the Law Society which provided a platform for the discussion of rights for unmarried couples.

Echoing his on-going efforts to introduce new legislation, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames proposed that the law in England and Wales should extend legal rights to those who choose not to marry. Conversely, it was contended that extending legal rights would create a complex path for couples whose relationship is in its infancy and could restrict individual autonomy.

The debate grappled with the challenges faced by cohabitees and although each speaker proffered a unique perspective on new legislation and its effects; they all acknowledged the urgent need for better communication of the current legal position of unmarried couples and families, whilst the debate about reforming cohabitation law continues.

The myth of 'common law' marriage must be dispelled by greater awareness of the fact that currently it is possible to live with someone for a long period of time, have children, own property, and build a family life together, yet have little legal protection to provide for the future needs of the family. If you are in a medium to long term relationship and you and your partner are both heavily invested in cohabitation (perhaps you have children together and a house), but you do not wish to marry, it is important to protect your position.

You can do this by entering into a cohabitation agreement which is drafted to regulate what would happen in the event that the relationship broke down.

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