Thousands of unmarried couples in Surrey at risk of losing everything if their relationship breaks down

This week marks Cohabitation Awareness Week, the focus of which is to raise awareness about the lack of rights that exist for unmarried couples who live together. With about 7 million people in the UK living in this type of relationship, it is the fastest growing family type in the country and one in which individuals are facing a lack of legal protection.

There are a total number of 426,800 cohabiting couples in the South East. Over 150,000 of these couples have dependent children. Many will incorrectly believe that they are protected under so called “common law marriage”,  with the assumption that they have acquired rights similar to those of married couples by virtue of being in a long term, committed relationship or having had children together.

When a married couple divorce, the Court has many powers. They can order that one spouse pays to the other a monthly sum in order to meet their outgoings, or that there should be a transfer of property ownership, or that a lump sum should be payable by one to the other. They can even share out the party’s pensions.

Cohabiting couples are often shocked to hear that the same remedies are not available to them. In a study conducted by Resolution this year, 89% of solicitors surveyed said that unmarried couples who separate are often surprised to find they have no legal rights. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed reported this lack of legal protection sees women lose out more often than men, particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her work to raise a family.

The sad reality is that, under current cohabitation law, it is possible to live with someone for decades and even to have children together and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner if the relationship breaks down.

This is why I urge all cohabiting couples in Surrey to consider taking out basic protections, such as a cohabitation agreement, to protect both partners if they separate. By setting out your intentions in these documents, you’ll be in a much better situation if the unexpected happens.

It’s likely the number of cohabiting couples will continue to grow in the future, and that more people will be affected by these issues. This is why I would urge all cohabiting couples to consider their legal situation, and take the steps to better protect themselves in the future.

rhw commercial solicitors.Hannah Rose – rhw solicitors llp

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