Election Special? Not a special UK election for cohabiting couples

1 July 2024 | Applicable law: England and Wales | 2 minute read

It is deeply disappointing that a commitment to law reform for cohabiting couples does not appear in the Labour Manifesto. This is despite the Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry MP announcing, in October last year in her 'Making the Law Work for Women' Speech, the Labour Party's intention to review cohabitation law and commit to introducing reform. 

These are the straplines for the respective Labour and Conservative Manifestos, yet there is neither change, nor a clear plan on the horizon it seems to improve the position in law for 3.6m cohabiting couples in England and Wales – many of who remain vulnerable on relationship breakdown.

Clear Plan, Bold Action, Secure Future. 

In fact, of the three major parties, only the Liberal Democrats have included a manifesto pledge to extend legal rights to cohabiting couples on separation.

Almost 50% of the public mistakenly believe that 'common law marriage' exists in England and Wales, according to research conducted last year. It should be a priority for the next government to change family justice in England and Wales for the better in this regard. It would be a quick 'win' for any political party, and it is way overdue. 

Looking at the big picture, the Law Commission is assessing how to reform the law governing finances on divorce – its report expected in September 2024. The recommendations it made for cohabitation law reform in 2007 have since been consistently ignored by Labour, Coalition and Conservative governments. It is high time our laws were reconfigured to suit all families whether married, civil partnered or cohabiting. The research has been done, the frameworks have been designed, the statistics are clear. 

Whatever the election result on July 4th, the next government should seize the opportunity to address the injustice caused to many unmarried families (particularly those with children) by the current outdated and inadequate law.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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