Goughs Solicitors calls for more rights for unmarried couples

By Ben Carey on 1 December, 2023

Members of the family justice body Resolution, including Goughs Solicitors, have welcomed research into more rights for cohabiting couples.

The research shows that most people back a change in the law. Currently, cohabiting couples have few or no rights in the event of a relationship breakdown, meaning that unlike married couples there is no mechanism for splitting assets. This is despite a huge growth in the number of couples and families that cohabit rather than marry.

A nationwide poll carried out by Whitestone Insight on behalf of Resolution found around half of cohabitees are unaware that they lack rights should they split up.

  • 59% of people polled back better legal protections for cohabiting people.
  • 74% of cohabitees agree that ‘the current laws surrounding cohabitation are unfit for today’s modern society’
  • 75% of Resolution members surveyed said they support a change in the law to provide basic rights to cohabiting couples

Asked about their concerns in the event of a relationship ending, 35% said they feared having nowhere to live – if a property is in one partner’s name the other partner has no automatic claim on it in the event of a breakup. One in three said they feared significant financial hardship.

According to House of Commons Library research 1.5 million couples cohabited in 1996 but that figure increased by 144% over the following 25 years to 3.6 million in 2021. According to the recent Resolution polling, 83% of respondents believe that cohabiting will become even more popular in future.

Ross Phillips, Partner and Family Solicitor at Goughs Solicitors, said, “The research demonstrates the urgent need for greater legal protection. Many cohabitees believe they are protected by ‘common-law marriage’ – but this is a myth and, sadly, they only discover this once it is too late.

“That’s why I’m joining Resolution’s call for a change in the law to ensure cohabiting couples in Wiltshire and elsewhere are not left in dire financial straits should their relationship come to an end.”

The call comes as Resolution launches its Vision for Family Justice in Parliament this week, highlighting a number of areas where reform is needed in order to better help families who are facing separation or divorce.

Grant Cameron, National Chair of Resolution, said, “It’s great to have so much support across the country for our call for change from people like Ross. For 40 years, Resolution has been campaigning for reforms which help couples who separate to do so more amicably and constructively – which is why cohabitation reform is front and centre of our Vision for Family Justice.

“The shape of families across England and Wales is changing – and our laws need to keep up.”

The Vision for Family Justice can be found here.

Pictured: Ross Phillips, Partner and Family Solicitor at Goughs Solicitors