The Law Commission has responded to the written ministerial statement issued by the Ministry of Justice stating that it does not intend to take forward the Law Commission’s recommendations for reform of cohabitation law in this parliamentary term.
The Law Commission was asked by the Government in 2005 to look at the law that currently applies to cohabitants when they separate. The Law Commission recommended in 2007 in the light of consultation that reform was necessary. The existing law is uncertain and expensive to apply and, because it was not designed for cohabitants, often gives rise to results that are unjust.
The Law Commission concluded that cohabitants should not be given the same rights as married couples and civil partners in the event of their separation. They recommended a new scheme of financial remedies. Those eligible to apply would be couples who had a child together or who lived together for a minimum period (set by Parliament of say 2 to 5 years). Awards would be based solely on contributions made to the relationship. Couples who wished to do so could opt out of the scheme.
The Government commended on the thoroughness and quality of the Law Commission report, but took a cautious approach instead. The Government’s response in the written ministerial statement was that “the family justice system was in a transitional period, with major reforms already on the horizon”. As such the Government did not therefore intend to take forward the Law Commission’s recommendations for reform of cohabitation law in this parliamentary term. The Government went on to say that it was hoped that the implementation would not be delayed beyond the early days of the next Parliament, in view of the hardship and injustice caused by the current law.
Elaborating on the statement, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:
“The Government is committed to transforming the family justice system, including greater use of mediation for married or co-habiting couples which can often be quicker, cheaper and less traumatic than going to court – especially where children are concerned. Furthermore, the family justice system is in a transitional period, with major reforms already on the horizon. We do not therefore intend to take forward the Law Commission’s recommendations for reform of cohabitation law in this parliamentary term.
“It is already possible for cohabiting couples to draft wills and enter into cohabitation agreements to protect their property rights. We recognise that not all couples wish to either marry or enter into a civil partnership, however they have the option to do so if they wish to gain legal recognition of their relationship.”
The Law Society says that despite the Government’s decision to drop plans to give couples living together similar rights to married couples, unmarried couples can sign a cohabitation agreement which would give them stronger rights should their partner die or should the couple separate.
Cohabitation agreements which are drafted by a solicitor could potentially put cohabiting couples in a better legal position than their married counterparts should the relationship breakdown.
If you would like advice in this area the please contact Miss Vincent or Miss Booth on 01926 422 101