July 12, 2013

Another small step in the right direction for cohabiting couples

We applaud the news that the Joint Committee on Human Rights is urging the Government to extend the same rights to heterosexual couples to enter civil partnerships as has been afforded only to same sex couples.

Here at Jones Myers we have long campaigned for legislation that supports unmarried couples – whatever their gender – and their children, in the same way as their legally wedded counterparts, should the relationship break down.

With the Joint Committee’s scrutiny of the forthcoming Marriage (Same Sex) Bill the time is right to address the potential for gender discrimination in all cohabitating relationships. Enabling opposite sex couples to enter civil partnerships will go a long way towards creating the security and protection for vulnerable families that has been long overdue.

However, the law moves slowly and it could be many months or even years before heterosexual couples have the legal rights offered by civil partnerships. Therefore, we recommend partners who live together draw up a cohabitation agreement to avoid one party being left destitute should the relationship flounder. In cases where one or both parties have been previously divorced, the needs of the ‘first family’ children will be a key consideration when couples opt to live together rather than marry a second or third time around.

The questions we encourage partners to consider are rooted in the ‘what if’’ scenario. Hard as it may be to contemplate the emotional and financial impact of one party leaving, dying or inheriting wealth, planning for these situations can be a helpful safeguard against later trauma.

Couples with children from a previous marriage should consider these questions in particular:

  • How will you ensure that your children, including those from a previous relationship are protected financially and emotionally in the event of your death?
  • Should a property be in joint names and if so what shares will the ownership be?
  • What happens to that property if one of you dies and can the survivor stay in that property forever or at all? What about financial support for the survivor?
  • When do your children receive your part of the property as their inheritance?

Our legal and financial experts help each party to look at these issues in ‘round table’ meetings, leading up to, and beyond, signing a cohabitation agreement as regular reviews will take account of any changes in personal circumstances.

At the present time such cohabitation agreements are enforceable with the courts supporting the rights of cohabitees in financial and capital claims.

Let us hope that before too long, the legislative process on these matters catches up with society’s needs and the reality of millions of people’s lives.