You may have seen the recent press coverage highlighting Cohabitation Awareness Week.

Recent statistics confirm that the most common family type in the UK is the married or civil partner couple type and that the cohabiting couple is both the second largest as well as the fastest growing.

Importantly, it highlighted that unmarried couples are unaware that they are at financial risk should their relationship fail.

The poll indicated 37% believed, wrongly, they would get financial relief through court if they lived together for longer than 2 years; a concept which does not exist in law.

Some 84% agree steps should be taken by the government to highlight to unmarried couples that they do not have the same legal protection as married couples, should they separate or one of them die.

On divorce the courts can share assets and income between the couple, according to factors such as need, contribution, and earning capacities. However, for unmarried couples, the courts do not have these powers. Therefore unmarried couples have to rely on the law relating to property where powers of the court are restricted to making orders to release the money by sale.

The situation is more complex for former cohabitees who have put money into a property owned by their former partner. These individuals must rely on the concept of ‘equity’ – that the courts will provide them with a remedy which is fair, regardless of the other party’s ‘legal’ ownership.

Any such legal proceedings are likely to be slow, complex and expensive.

The Cohabitation Rights Bill which addresses the rights of cohabitating couples, is slowly meandering its way through the Parliamentary process.

Until there is a significant change in the law, it is vitally important for any unmarried couple to ensure that their financial and property arrangements are protected. ‘Living Together Agreements’ can set out agreed arrangements should cohabitees decide to go their separate ways. For advice contact Chris Burns at Lupton Fawcett on 01904 611411 or