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14 September 2018 | Comment | Article by Victoria Cannon

Is change at last on the horizon for cohabitees following the recent Supreme Court decision in McLaughlin?

Are you currently living in the United Kingdom with your partner and have made the decision not to get married?

If so, you are not alone. In 2017, it was estimated that there were 3.3 million cohabiting partners in the UK. Unmarried couples are the fastest growing family type in the country according to the Office for National Statistics, yet very few couples know their rights.

You may have heard of the concept of “common law marriage.” It is accepted by many that this concept provides unmarried partners with the same legal and financial rights as married couples. However, the harsh reality is that there is no such thing; it is nothing but a myth. When cohabitees decide to bring their relationship to an end, there is no existing family law governing their separation.

This inevitably means that cohabitees have no rights. There is no legal obligation to financially support each other, nor is there a right to stay in the property if you are the unmarried partner of the legal tenant or owner. Under the current law, cohabitees can simply walk away from the relationship, taking no responsibility with them, even if they have children together. As you can see, this can leave cohabitees both vulnerable and unprotected.

The recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the application of Siobhan McLaughlin has finally addressed one area of discrimination against unmarried couples in circumstances where one party dies. The applicant, Siobhan McLaughlin a mother of four, won her case after arguing that she should have been entitled to widowed parent’s allowance, despite not being married to her long term partner who sadly died from cancer.

The case has sparked much debate regarding the disparity of rights between married and unmarried couples generally, not only when one party dies. The court vocalised their support for change for cohabitees in this judgment and Resolution, the association of family solicitors has long campaigned for the government to take steps to bring forward as a priority minimum protection for cohabiting couples.

Whilst this ruling suggests change may at last be on the horizon and is a step in the right direction for cohabitees, it was made clear that the judgement was given based on the facts of the case, more specifically the needs and well-being of the children involved and related to circumstances on death rather than upon separation.

Therefore, what can you and other unmarried couples do to gain some security in the event of relationship breakdown until there is a change in the law? One option is a Cohabitation Agreement. This will record both you and your partner’s rights and responsibilities in relation to the property you are living in, financial arrangements and what will happen should the relationship break down.

If you would like advice and assistance in relation to the preparation of a Cohabitation Agreement, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced Family Law team.

Author bio

Victoria Cannon


Throughout her career spanning over 19 years in family law, Victoria Cannon has amassed extensive experience in advising business owners on safeguarding their enterprises during divorce proceedings and minimising disruption to their business.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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