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UK law continues to lag behind on cohabitation rights

View profile for Muntech Kaur
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Further to my earlier blogs on cohabitation agreements and the misconceptions around common law spouses, including the common misunderstanding that they are entitled to the same legal rights as married couples, there are other countries who are coming on leaps and bounds to reflect the modern day approach of its citizens who choose not to enter into marriage and/or adopt an alternative family structure to the traditional family.

Maltese Cohabitation Bill

Parliament in Malta has recently approved a second reading of a Cohabitation Bill which provides for three types of cohabitation, namely de facto cohabitation; contractual cohabitation; and unilaterally-declared cohabitation.

What is de facto cohabitation?

De facto cohabitation would provide recognition of couples who have cohabited for at least 2 years, offering them very limited rights and duties, including consideration of being a next of kin and being able to make medical decisions for each other.   

What is contractual cohabitation?

Contractual cohabitation would allow the cohabitees to enter into a formal and binding contract, in which it is up to the parties to decide the terms of their cohabitation, including the division of their assets upon separation. 

What is unilaterally-declared cohabitation?

Unilaterally-declared cohabitation would apply only to the first 5 years from the time that the Bill becomes law. In effect, it allows for one cohabitee to send to the other a legal notice of their cohabitation status and by doing so affording legal protection for the “vulnerable” party in the cohabitation arrangement. 

Malta vs UK

Malta’s census as of 2011 recorded at least 4000 cohabiting couples. Of course this figure is likely to be much greater today but still likely to be far short of the 3.3 million cohabiting couples recorded in the UK in 2016.

With one of the most renowned judicial systems in the world, it begs the question why the law in England & Wales continues to lag behind in adapting to the lifestyles choices of its citizens, and modern day family formation.

Cohabitation disputes

Cohabitation disputes in England & Wales are governed by a variety of legislation rather than one comprehensive statute. Until the statute book catches up, cohabiting couples may wish to consider regulating the terms of their cohabitation, ownership of assets and how they wish to deal with matters when ending the relationship.

At Birkett Long, our specialist team of family law experts can advise you of the options available to cohabiting couples, not only at the commencement of cohabitation, but also in the unfortunate circumstances of the relationship coming to an end. Please feel free to contact one of many family law specialists based in our Basildon, Chelmford and Colchester offices for a 15 minutes free telephone consultation.