Is reform to common-law marriage on the horizon? - Boodle Hatfield

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11 Oct 2023

Is reform to common-law marriage on the horizon?

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James Roe View profile
2 min read

In a party conference in Liverpool yesterday, Labour have vowed to give unmarried cohabiting couples property rights in a move aiming to offer protection to lower-earning partners. Emily Thornberry, shadow attorney-general, said Labour would look to give cohabitees rights after living together for a few years. Previous efforts to reform this area of law have failed, with the Law Commission having recommended that rights should be introduced for cohabiting couples as far back as 2007, and again in 2011. Currently, the Scottish and Northern Ireland legal systems afford more rights and protection to cohabitees than is available in England and Wales.

As reported in The Times

, it is a frequent misconception that couples who have cohabited for a number of years create a ‘common-law marriage’ and obtain legal rights over property owned by their partner. Under the current law in England and Wales, cohabiting couples have virtually no means of making a claim in respect of one another's property following the breakdown of their relationship, and no rights to inherit from one another upon death. This can cause enormous problems where there is financial disparity between cohabitees, and can mean couples remain in unhappy relationships due to fear of the financial consequences following separation. As a consequence, many have been pushing for reform in respect of this area of the law which is often criticised as being unfit for purpose in this day and age, given the increase in couples choosing to cohabit rather than marry, often unaware of the consequences on their legal entitlements following separation.

We at Boodle Hatfield continue to watch this developing area of the law with keen interest.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney-general, said that women were being “put out on the street” when unmarried couples broke up, and promised to reform laws that gave them few financial rights. Pledging to end the “injustice”

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