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Cohabitation – is the law keeping pace?
Does the law on cohabitation need to change?
Following the decision by Lord Justice Toulson to grant a former cohabitant the right to appeal against a county court decision that left her with a zero share in a business and property purchased for £750,000 after a 30-year relationship, leading commentators are bemoaning once again the lack of justice for co-habitees under the current system.
The law is often considered to have fallen behind the pace of changing modern relationships and family structures, failing to offer any real protection for couples who live together outside of a formal marriage or civil partnership arrangement. This causes particular hardship for cohabitants who have made career or financial sacrifices for the sake of their relationship, and often comes as an unpleasant surprise to cohabitants who largely perceive a level of protection which is not available.
Frequent attempts have been made at reform, including a Cohabitation Bill by Lord Lester, but there has been no real change in the law for 30 years and pressure appears to be mounting for a mechanism to be introduced to take account of a non-financial contribution to a partnership or family relationship.
Our advice to co-habitees remains to establish clear and formal structures to property and other asset ownership and management, and to ensure that Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney are regularly updated. Many co-habitees are unaware of the complexity of probate processes on the death or incapacity of a non-spouse or civil partner, particularly where assets are held in sole names. Often funds which are needed for the continued financial support of the family are frozen and inaccessible without adequate advance provision by the co-habitants. We are happy to provide advice on all associated areas from both our Cockfosters and Barnet offices.