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Families: Unmarried Couples

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 20 March 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether unmarried cohabiting opposite-sex couples need legislative protection; and [HL2414]

Whether the law that currently applies to resolve property disputes between unmarried cohabiting couples is sufficiently clear and uncomplicated and produces fair outcomes for cohabitants and their children; and [HL2415]

Whether they will introduce legislation to give effect to the recommendations of the Law Commission for England and Wales in its report Cohabitation: The Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown to provide a scheme of financial remedies that would lead to fairer outcomes on separation of cohabitants and their families. [HL2416]

Cohabiting couples do have fewer legal rights than their married counterparts, but that is not to say that they have none. In relation to domestic violence, cohabiting couples have the same rights to protection as married couples.

Financial disputes over maintenance payments for children are governed by the Child Support Agency and by legislation specifically designed to cater for their needs. Neither differentiates between cohabitants and married parents.

The question of whether further legislation dealing specifically with cohabitants is required is a finely balanced one. It was precisely because of the Government's concern that cohabitants might be inadequately protected that the question of whether they should have specific rights was referred to the Law Commission.

Following the Law Commission's report, the Government have decided to consider research on the impact of the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 which contains provisions that are similar in many respects to those which the Law Commission recommends before deciding whether to implement the Law Commission's proposals. In particular, the Government wish to consider the likely cost and benefit to this jurisdiction of bringing into effect the scheme proposed by the Law Commission, and to see how well the scheme meets the needs of vulnerable individuals.

The Government have funded the “Living Together” campaign to raise public awareness about the legal status of cohabitation. It aims to make people more aware of the differences in the rights and responsibilities applying to married and unmarried relationships, and to provide cohabitants with practical advice on how they can protect themselves and their families, should they wish to do so. Pending the outcome of research, the Government will continue to support this campaign.