Cohabitation Law: Potential for reform under a new Labour Government

Following the recent General Election results, a Labour Government is now in place. This change in government is prompting many family law specialists, including ourselves at Berry Smith, to evaluate its potential impact on family law in England and Wales. One area of interest is cohabitation law, with reform in this area now potentially on the horizon.

A ‘common law marriage’ myth

The number of cohabiting couples in the UK is on a steady rise, with over 3.6 million couples currently in such relationships. This trend reflects the evolving family dynamics in today’s society, where marriage is no longer the norm for many couples.

Despite the significant prevalence of cohabitation within England and Wales, cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights and protections afforded to married couples. There is a common misconception that cohabitees contain the same legal rights and protections as married couples under a ‘common law marriage’. However, common law marriage is a myth. Currently, cohabitees have minimal rights and financial claims if their relationship comes to an end. More often than not, the financially weaker party in the relationship will be vulnerable and left at a disadvantage following separation.

Potential Reform

During their Party Conference, the Labour Party indicated a commitment and intention to reform cohabitation law in England and Wales to address these issues.

As of yet, there are no clear indications or suggestions as to how the reform framework would work in practice. However, there have been suggestions that reform could be similar to the system adopted in Australia and New Zealand, where cohabitees are provided with the same legal rights as married couples once they have lived together for a certain qualifying period (2-3 years) or have a child of the relationship.

Resolution, a community membership of family justice professionals, welcomes this reform and have been proactive in advocating for change, with cohabitation reform an important part of their vision for Family Justice.

Cohabitation Agreements

Reform of cohabitation law is certainly not definite and will take time. Until such reform has been implemented, cohabitees continue to be at risk. We at Berry Smith, therefore, advise all cohabiting couples to take necessary, important, steps to protect themselves now.

Cohabitation Agreements are one way in which cohabiting couples can provide themselves with some form of protection. The cohabitation agreement is a legal document that would set out the couples intentions in relation to finances, assets, property, and finances for children both during their relationship and in the event of separation.

If you would like any advice in relation to cohabitation law, or any other aspect of family law our specialist Family law team at Berry Smith are able to help. Please do not hesitate to get in contact via or 01656 645525.