On 2 October the Government announced plans to extend the law to enable heterosexual couples to enter into Civil Partnerships, as same sex couples have been able to do since the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in December 2005. This will bring about equality, enabling any couples who do not wish to marry, to enter into a Civil Partnership.
Unfortunately, however, the majority of cohabiting couples are blissfully unaware that they in fact have very few legal rights in circumstances where their relationship breaks down or their partner dies. The majority of cohabitees believe that there is a concept of ‘common law’ marriage which protects them, when in fact there is not. Because they are unaware they are at risk, it is quite possible that they won’t realise that it is in their interests to formalise their relationship by entering into a marriage or civil partnership.
Many family law professionals, including the association of family lawyers, Resolution, have argued for many years that cohabiting couples should be provided with at least a basic level of protection in the event of relationship breakdown or death of a cohabitee. Whilst this announcement is a step in the right direction, the law needs to change in order to reflect modern society and protect all families, whether the couple has registered their relationship formally or not.
In the meantime, until there is reform, cohabitees who don’t wish to marry or enter into a Civil Partnership but would like to secure some level of protection can enter into a Cohabitation Agreement.