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New Bill intended to improve protection for cohabiting couples

A new Bill designed to provide more protection for cohabiting couples is now making its way through Parliament.

The Cohabitation Bill has the backing of the family lawyers’ association, Resolution. It is being put forward as a Private Members’ Bill by Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

It is uncertain whether or not the Bill will ever become law but it is at least highlighting the problems that couples could face if their relationships break up. Unfortunately, many people are confused about their legal rights. Recent research showed that more than 50% of people believe there is such a thing as common law marriage giving cohabiting couples the same legal protection as married couples.

This is not the case. Cohabiting couples have very few automatic rights and this can cause numerous problems.

For example, if your home is in your ex-partner’s name then you will have no automatic right to stay there if you are asked to leave. Nor will you automatically be entitled to a financial share in the house, even if you helped to pay for it over several years. Your former partner won’t have to pay maintenance for you, even if you gave up your job to look after the children while he or she went out to build a lucrative career.

If you don’t already have a will then you should draw one up as soon as possible. Otherwise your estate could pass to your relatives rather than your partner.

If the Cohabitation Bill does become law it will provide much needed protection for cohabiting couples but one has to remember that most private members’ bills fail to make it on to the statute book.

It means that until the law does change, cohabiting couples who don’t wish to get married have little choice but to provide their own legal protection.

Many couples protect themselves by drawing up living together agreements which state in advance how their assets should be divided if their relationship fails.

Some people may feel embarrassed at first to be making such legal arrangements as it seems that they don’t fully trust each other. However, such concerns soon disappear and most couples end up feeling their relationship is stronger because both partners feel more secure.

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