Lords debate proposals to give greater rights to cohabitees

A bill which will give greater legal protection to cohabitees has been debated in the House of Lords.

The Cohabitation Rights Bill, introduced by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Marks, had its second reading last week and has now passed to committee stage.

The proposed reforms follow criticism from senior members of the judiciary, who have argued that the current legislation does not meet the needs of 21st century Britain.

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has supported Lord Marks’ proposals but argues that the law should go even further to help unmarried couples living together.

Steve Kirwan, from Resolution, said: “Ultimately, the law needs to reflect the standards of modern society, and in the case of cohabitation, it does not.

“More couples are living together than ever before, with an estimated 2,859,000 cohabiting households in Britain – that’s a significant portion of the country currently served by outdated and unfair laws.

“The current law on cohabitation is in desperate need of change and we believe that even Lord Marks’ bill, whilst welcome, does not go far enough to address the inequality in the current system.”

The bill would give cohabiting couples similar rights to those who are married and for the first time they would be allowed to apply for a financial settlement within two years of a relationship ending.

Some are concerned that while the intention of the bill may be to give greater rights to those who haven’t exchanged wedding vows, the new rules may not be universally popular.

Baroness Deech, among those to speak out against the proposals, recently said: “Given the uncertainty of the existing matrimonial financial provision law, why would you want to apply that same law to cohabiting couples?”