Written evidence from Anthony Ford [HAB0020]
As a firm believer in the benefits of marriage to the partners, to any offspring they may have and to society at large, this idea seems to be a step away from promoting those benefits.
Definition of cohabitation
Cohabitation covers a very wide set of circumstances. Any definition would have to answer such questions as:
• When would it begin? Is the word of one of the persons involved sufficient, or would it need agreement by both?
• How would that beginning be marked, witnessed and registered in some legal way as marriage is.
• How would it end, be marked, witnessed and registered? Who would decide it has ended? One party or both? What if the two disagree?
• Will there be a minimum duration for cohabitation to be recognised legally?
• How will any children involved in an ending be considered? When multiple, serial cohabitation has occurred, who is responsible?
I conclude that it will be impossible to formulate a legal definition of cohabitation without emulating the definition of marriage in all but name.
In the case of accommodation being available to a surviving cohabiter after one partner’s death, surely this would be dealt with best by a review of tenants’ rights when multiple people occupy a dwelling. In the case of an owned property, the owner having deceased, there must be case law in existence already to handle such a circumstance.
For pensions, say, it would be easy for the pension recipient to nominate another person in the event of their death, provided the pension providers would not be burdened with an unknown number of secondary beneficiaries.
While equality is a concern, no society can guarantee equality in all things to all people under all circumstances. A very current example is a person who refuses to be vaccinated against COVID. The benefit of vaccination cannot be enjoyed by that person.
If people choose not to marry but only to live together, should they not consider the consequences for a surviving partner after a death? Is the state required always to make up for people’s lack of foresight and planning? Death comes commonly to all.
Why not approach this from the starting point of children’s rights, rather than the loose and complex circumstances of cohabitation? A review of current legislation might show that the law should be revised to cover cohabitation as well as marriage. That seems to me to be a better starting point.
Marriage has been an institution for millennia and has provided stability and security for marriage partners and their offspring. It is not an onerous process, but encourages those considering it to think and plan more carefully than those who would simply move in with someone else under circumstances that will vary in almost every aspect. Why should those who think, plan and commit not benefit in some ways over those who do not?