Sadly, many cohabiting couples still believe in the notion of common-law wives and husbands. It is mistakenly thought that if a couple has been together for a number of years, they are protected by English and Welsh family law in much the same way that married and civil-partnered couples are. But, this is not true.
For years, family law solicitors and family groups have campaigned for legal reform which would offer greater legal protection to cohabitees, and their families, when a relationship breaks down.
In property claims, the absence of specific legislation for cohabiting couples means that settlements are made under concepts of trust law and many solicitors see this as an outdated system which must be reformed.
In October 2013 the Cohabitation Rights Bill 2013/14 started its path through parliament with a first reading in the House of Lords. The formal summary stated that it was a Bill to provide certain protections for people who live, or have lived, together as a couple; and to make provision regarding the property of deceased persons who are survived by a cohabitant; and for connected purposes.
A major area highlighted by the Bill was the definition of cohabitation and how a court would recognise such a relationship. Broadly speaking, the test in family proceedings are the six signposts of cohabitation as set out in Kimber v Kimber  1 FLR 383 and B v B EWHC 314 (Fam). These are:
The Bill aims to put forward a model of how family courts could define cohabitation and how this would be used in family cases, including separation and divorce claims. However, there has been continued parliamentary resistance to the idea of family law reform.
While family law solicitors and family protection organisations wish for clarity on many issues relating to cohabitation, and the myriad claims arising from relationship breakdown, it appears that politicians are reluctant to step up and provide demonstrable interpretation and directives.
If you are in a cohabiting relationship and wish to protect yourself in the event of relationship breakdown, George Ide’s team of family lawyers can help in the negotiation and drafting of a living together agreement (similar to a marital property agreement or pre-nup).
We can explain how you can protect yourself, and your dependants, and if the need arises represent you in any financial claim as a result of the ending of your relationship.
Our team has many years’ experience in all family law matters and are here to help by offering astute, pragmatic legal advice during the most difficult of times.
Call our Chichester offices today to talk to a solicitor and to discuss your legal options.