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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

08 OCT 2007

Cohabitation: why legislative reform is necessary

Stuart Bridge, Law Commissioner. In July 2007, the Law Commission published its report Cohabitation: The Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown. The central recommendations are for the introduction of a statutory scheme of financial remedies available between certain cohabiting couples in the event of their separation, referred to in the report as 'financial relief on separation'. The new scheme would apply only to those cohabitants who have had children together, or who have lived together for a specified minimum duration. No recommendation is made on the length of this minimum duration requirement, but it is suggested that it should be no less than 2, and no more than 5, years. The scheme would enable the courts to address, more effectively than they currently can, the economic consequences of certain contributions made by the cohabitants during their relationship. It would be wholly distinct from the regime which applies between spouses (and civil partners) in the event of divorce. It would be open to cohabiting couples, subject to necessary protections, to opt out of the operation of the scheme by written agreement, and to make their own financial arrangements which would be enforceable should they separate. In this article, Stuart Bridge considers the issues that arose during the consultation process which led to the publication of the report, looking at the criticisms that have been levelled at the law as it currently stands and the question over whether the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 should apply to cohabiting couples, and what the position in relation to the children of cohabiting couples should be. For the full article, see October [2007] Fam Law. A second article, looking at how the recommended scheme of financial relief is intended to operate, will be published in November [2007] Fam Law.

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