The UK is now home to some 3.3 million cohabiting couples and the figure is ever increasing.
While many have laboured under the misconception that there is a “common law marriage” (i.e. those who cohabit will have similar legal rights to spouses), this is not correct. Couples who cohabit without marrying and subsequently separate will be afforded little or no legal protection.
Many believe that new legislation should be introduced to reflect our changing demographics. Indeed “The Cohabitation Rights Bill” got as far as a first reading in the House of Lords in 2015. Although it was not progressed, it was certainly a step in the right direction.
The current lacuna in the law leaves cohabitees exposed. Many argue that this is too high a price to pay simply to enable the symbolism of marriage to continue to revel in its “pedestal status” in society?
On the other side of the coin, there are concerns that greater rights for cohabitees will undermine the institution of marriage.
In 2016 cohabiting couple families were the fastest growing family type over the last 20 years. The growth in cohabiting couples may be due to couples choosing cohabitation as an alternative precursor to marriage.