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Government rejects call to reform law for cohabiting partners

1 November 2022

The Women and Equalities Committee Chair Caroline Nokes has criticised the Government’s rejection of a recommendation to reform cohabitation law, saying it relies on “flawed logic” and “risks leaving a growing number of cohabitants and children vulnerable.”

In its August report, the Committee called for reform to family law in England and Wales to better protect cohabiting couples and their children from financial hardship in the event of separation.

The Government, in its response to the Committee’s report published today, 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 accepts two recommendations on improved guidance and support to make cohabitants more aware of their legal rights.

Cohabiting partners make up the fastest growing type of family, with over 3.6 million partners cohabiting in the UK. In August, the Committee warned of ‘inferior’ protections for cohabiting couples compared to spouses or civil partners, highlighting that upon relationship breakdown, the financially weaker partner has no automatic rights to the family home. Instead, they rely on complicated property law and outdated legislation regarding child support. 

Chair's comment

Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, said: 

“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.”

Further information

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