Cohabitation laws: Where do we go from here?

Nyoni, Zanele orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0499-858X (2019) Cohabitation laws: Where do we go from here? In: The 16th World Conference of the International Society of Family Law, 25-29 July 2017, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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Over the past decade, figures from the Office of National Statistics show that across the UK cohabiting couples have more than doubled in number, making it the fastest growing family form. The context of cohabitation is becoming increasingly diverse; with socio-economic factors, religion and ethnic background all playing an important role in the decision of whether or not to marry. In comparison to their married counterparts, cohabiting couples have little financial protection when the relationship ends or upon the death of a partner. It is not that cohabitants do not have any legal rights; instead the law has not yet developed a comprehensive approach to cohabiting couples. In some contexts, they are treated as if they were married, in others they are accorded lesser rights, and in others they have no rights at all, or at least none that are specific to their status as cohabitants. As a result, cohabiting couples have to resort to piecemeal legislation and a legal framework which often produces undesirable outcomes. Instances of inequity and hardship are widespread, and the results have been described as confusing, complex, usually inferior and hardly ever automatic.
Proposals for reform have intensified in recent years, but as yet no action has been taken. This article does not presuppose what policy would be ideal for cohabitants, but instead examines the criticisms of the existing law and considers a possible way forward.

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