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Cohabitation law: Government rejects calls for reform

  • Extracted from an article on
  • 4 November 2022

The government has rejected almost all proposals for cohabitation law reform put forward in the Women and Equalities Committee’s recent report.

The report highlighted the lack of legal protection afforded to cohabiting couples, with Resolution describing their position as one of “legal limbo”.

Key recommendations included an opt-out cohabitation scheme, adoption of a framework concerning intestacy and family provision claims for cohabiting partners, reform to inheritance tax for cohabiting couples, and a public awareness campaign to inform people of the distinctions between getting married, being civilly partnered, and cohabiting.

However, the government said existing work on the law of marriage and divorce must conclude before it could consider changes to the law in respect of the rights of cohabitants.

The government also stated it has no plans to extend the inheritance tax treatment of spouses and civil partners to cohabiting partners, but would keep it under review.

It partially accepted two recommendations on improved support for women in religious communities and improved guidance to make cohabitants more aware of their legal rights – including addressing the myth of the “common law marriage” – but deemed a full national public awareness campaign on these issues unnecessary.

Responding to the report was Women and Equalities Committee Chair Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, who criticised the “flawed logic” deployed by the government:

“It is deeply disappointing that the government has closed off the possibility of better legal protections for cohabiting partners for the foreseeable future.

In doing so it relies on flawed logic. Weddings law and financial provision on divorce are wholly separate areas of family law. There is no reason the government should not prioritise law reform for cohabiting partners alongside this.

Moreover, changes to weddings and divorce law could take many years. This response effectively kicks the issue into the long grass and risks leaving a growing number of cohabitants financially vulnerable.

The Committee welcomes the government’s recognition that there must be better guidance on cohabitants’ rights. We have agreed to follow up on the committed actions in the coming months.”

Graeme Fraser, Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation Committee, said Resolution is “bitterly disappointed” that there will be no “meaningful action” to protect cohabiting couples:

“The lack of rights for cohabiting couples means millions of people – often women and others in society who are vulnerable – are at significant financial risk if their relationship ends or their partner passes away.

Having bad laws is generally a bad thing for families. Current cohabitation laws are unfair, not fit for purpose and consign too many families to misery and dire financial hardship. It will continue to do so until it has been reformed, exacerbated by the significant numbers who continue to cohabit.

Resolution members have campaigned for the law to change for many years. We will continue to campaign to achieve fairness underlining our members’ approach to resolving issues for all families in a constructive way.”

Emily Deane, Technical Counsel & Head of Government Affairs at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), said:

“We are very disappointed to see that the government has rejected calls to reform legal protections for cohabiting partners.

Given the changes we have seen to families over the past few decades, including society becoming less marriage-centric, it is important that legal structures should be put in place providing some default protection for the many families that don’t conform to ‘traditional’ definitions.

In particular, we believe it is important to see cohabitants given rights under the intestacy rules, under which they are currently excluded. The current situation means that if cohabiting couples haven’t made wills, unlike married couples they will not inherit anything if their partner were to pass away. The existing lack of legal protections can leave bereaved cohabitants financially vulnerable during very difficult circumstances.

STEP will continue to pursue reform and ask the government to revisit this important issue.”


If you would like advice about your situation and Wills contact Helena Grady on 0114 2588899.  Helena is a Solicitor and member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) with many years’ experience.  She can advise in relation to all elderly client issues.   


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