Cohabitation Rights Bill makes its way through parliament
The Cohabitation Rights Bill has passed its second reading in the House of Lords. The Bill, which was originally tabled in the Lords, aims to give cohabiting couples similar rights to couples who are married or in a civil partnership.
According to the 2014 Grant Thornton annual matrimonial survey, protection for cohabiting couples continues to rank highly as an area where lawyers would like to see legislative reform. Some 24% of lawyers questioned selected this as their top area for change. There is a growing body of opinion that new laws are necessary to protect cohabitees with children and shared property.
If passed, the Bill would give cohabiting couples a right to apply to the court for a financial settlement up to two years after separating. The rights are not as extensive as those for marriages and civil partnerships.
Despite wanting the law clarified, the survey found that 59% of lawyers believed cohabitants should not have exactly the same rights as married couples. However, an increasing number of respondents said that cohabitants should be on an equal footing with married couples, with 19% agreeing with this, up from 8% last year.
The same controversy was evident when the bill was read in the Lords. Lord Marks of Henley upon Thames said it was the choice of cohabitees not to marry or form a civil partnership and to avoid taking on financial obligations to one another. He suggested it was not the job of the state to force such obligations on to such people. He added, however, this should not preclude the establishment of a mechanism for smoothing out the financial impact of separation.
Once the Bill is passed in the Lords it will have to go to the Commons to be passed – the opposite way round to Bills which originate in the Commons.
Resolution, the organisation for family lawyers, has said in a statement recently that the current law was failing people. It argued, that despite more people choosing not to tie the knot, unmarried couples still have inadequate property and financial rights when they split up. The Cohabitation Rights Bill was a good start but it needed to go further and establish mechanisms for the support of children, according to Resolution.
You can find up to date information about the progress of the Bill through Parliament on the UK Parliament website.