Henry Brookman discusses the differences between married couples, civil partnerships and cohabitees. Published in The Times.

The government’s Justice Minister, Jonathan Djanogly, recently announced that the Law Commission review of cohabitees’ rights had been scrapped.

Whilst the topic of cohabitees’ rights seems to be regularly considered by Parliament, the issue is never actually tackled.  This of course has implications for the estimated one-eighth of the adult population who are unmarried and cohabiting.

Legally speaking, a cohabiting couple are treated very differently from a couple who are either married or in a civil partnership.  For example, if the husband or wife in a heterosexual marriage dies, their partner automatically has the right to inherit their spouse’s assets.  The partner will also be automatically exempt from large amounts of inheritance tax.  These rights do not apply to cohabiting couples.  Partners in a cohabiting couple cannot bring claims against each other for assets such as property or maintenance payments.  

In some cases, a partner in a cohabiting relationship who also has responsibility for the couple’s children, has been granted use of the house.  But what people often don’t realise is that this ability to live in the house only lasts until the children come of age.

To further complicate matters, pre-nuptial agreements also carry varying degrees of weight depending on the case. Currently, married couples in England and Wales ‘may’ have their pre-nuptial agreements taken into account by the courts (though the Radmacher case does mean that pre-nups are more likely to be binding).  However, pre-nuptial agreements in civil partnerships are far more likely to be upheld.  These discrepancies can be said to undermine the family justice system in England and Wales, whilst continuing to leave cohabiting couples out in the legal equivalent of no man’s land.

If you would like to know more about this issue please contact Brookman Solicitors for more information.

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