Written evidence submitted by Mr Philip Mear [HAB0066]

 

  1.                             Should there be a legal definition of cohabitation and, if so, what should it be?

Firstly, marriage and civil partnerships have established legal definitions. There is no need to provide a legal definition of cohabitation because it is by nature an informal, temporary way of living. The people involved have chosen to avoid a marriage or civil partnership which are legally recognised.  Whereas people in a marriage or civil partnership have formalised their relationship and therefore enjoy the financial and legal benefits. In addition, there is an additional problem if a legal definition of cohabitation was created.

 

When is cohabitation not a cohabitation? In marriage or civil partnerships there is a definite moment when two single people become legally joined in law. This was their intention from the start and unless it is a forced marriage, a voluntary process where they both give their full consent. There are other ways of dealing with many of the legal issues that arise from cohabitation such as after the death of a partner. All the law would be doing is creating an unnecessary complication in what are by nature informal, fluid, temporary arrangements.

 

There would many disputes from those involved about if they were cohabitating or not, or was it intentional or accidental. This is why it is unnecessary to give legal protection to cohabitation, because they have chosen not to ‘bind’ themselves though marriage or a civil partnership. Outside of this consideration of couples is the question of other forms of cohabitation such as a brother and sister, two brothers or two sisters. I would even include a dependent mother/father and son/daughter who also deserve legal protection in financial and legal matters.

 

The facts remain clear, only those who are married or in a civil partnership can provide a stable relationship that merits the financial and legal protections their relationships deserve. Those that cohabit have made a clear choice NOT to avail themselves of the benefits of marriage or a civil partnership. Therefore, there is no reason to extend and greatly complicate the legal position of those in a cohabitation arrangement.     

 

 

 

  1.                             What legislative changes, if any, are needed to better protect the rights of cohabiting partners in the event of death or separation?

In my view, no changes are needed. They have made their bed, let them lie in it! The main issue is that one or both of the parties in cohabitation is unable or unwilling to make a permanent, legally binding commitment to enter a marriage or civil partnership. These relationships are inherently more unstable than marriage, with by five years old, over half the children of those born in cohabitation arrangements separated from one of their birth parents. This is only 15% for married couples.

 

My view is that more publicity and education is needed about the precarious legal situation of those in a cohabitation arrangement. Rather than protecting partners in cohabitation arrangements, public policy should be promoting the benefits of marriage as a more secure, stable relationship. The law should not be ‘protecting’ those in cohabitation that have chosen not to avail themselves greater security gained by getting married. This may be tough on some people who are willing or keen to get married, but their partner is not.

 

Countries such as Singapore make their policy on cohabitation very clear. The law does not force couples to get married, but the Government and state only support those that get married. There is no civil partnership provision in Singapore. Marriage has all the advantages, cohabitation has none.  

 

 

 

  1.                             What equalities issues are raised by the lack of legal protection for those in cohabiting relationships?

I see no equalities issues. Same sex couples and different sex couples can choose to get married, enter a civil partnership or cohabit. Only the first two choices have legal protection. Before same sex marriage and civil partnerships were allowed, there may have been a case for discrimination. However, now there are no equality issues.

 

  1.                             Should legal changes be made to better provide for the children of cohabiting partners?

The best approach to address this problem is to reduce the number of children born into cohabitation arrangements. Marriage should be positively encouraged and rewarded in comparison to cohabitation. This is what many countries such as Singapore do. Extending the security of marriage to those in cohabitation arrangements will only encourage more couples to cohabit.

 

Children are the victims of their parents’ choice to cohabit rather than marry. Due to the unstable patten of relationships men may prefer to cohabit rather than marry to avoid supporting their children. These men want the pleasure of active sexual relationships without accepting its responsibilities. The only sustainable answer is for public policy to discourage casual cohabitation. This is the opposite to what you are considering which is extending the protections of marriage to those in loose cohabitation arrangement.  

 

Public policy should be to encourage those in cohabitation arrangements to get married or at least a civil partnership. Once couples realise the problems of having children in a cohabitation arrangement, they should either get married or not have children. For those with children, either their own or from a previous relationship marriage should be promoted. It is wrong to even consider making ‘special’ arrangements for cohabiting couples who are directly and certainly indirectly increasing the rate of family breakdown in the UK. Hence Singapore has a pro marriage policy 

 

  1.                             Should cohabiting partners have the same rights as those who are married or in a civil partnership?

The answer to this question is “NO”. Marriage has been undermined for many years now to the point it offers no benefit to many couples. One example of this is the way single parents are financially advantaged over families with married parents in terms of social security e.g., universal credit, housing, and other related areas. Were cohabiting couples to be given the same rights as those in marriage or civil partnerships it would further destabilase society.

 

There is also the problem of those in cohabitation relationships wanting the benefits of a loose informal relationship and the benefits of a stable marriage relationship. This is not a ‘pick and mix’ sweet selection. Informal cohabitation has benefits in housing e.g., ‘temporary’ single parents are given priority and gain many social security benefits not available to married couples. The convenient ‘disappearance’ of a partner can help secure a home that when secured, their pervious partner then mysteriously return. However, there is price to pay for being in an informal relationship, that is limited or no legal rights in case of the death of partner or separation. It is their choice; they made their bed and should lie in it! 

 

Whilst I have sympathy with those in a cohabitation arrangement that want to get married and their partner does not, this is not an argument for granting cohabiting partners the same security as those who are married. In fact, it would merely encourage more people to not get married, which is exactly what has been happening since divorce and abortion were made easier 50+ years ago. My point is those who get married make a serious commitment and should therefore be rewarded for doing so. They not only contribute to their own happiness but also to society. Marriage brings security, cohabiting insecurity.

 

  1.                             Are there examples of good practice in relation to the rights of cohabiting partners in the UK or internationally that the Government should seek emulate in England and Wales?

Yes. The Singapore government has zero provision for those that cohabit. The impact of this is that only expat foreigners working in Singapore and local couples that can afford NOT to the use Singapore government schemes such as subsidised flats from the Housing and Development Board (HDB) cohabit. The private sector provides housing e.g., condos, gated housing communities, apartments for those that can afford to avoid living in a HDB flat.

 

The impact of this that cohabiting couple must be financially affluent and so can survive without needing to submit to Singapore’s pro marriage policy. Cohabiting together is not rewarded by the Singapore government, including the taxation system. Many other countries also reward marriage with generous tax allowances for marriage and children, housing provision, whilst not providing them to those that are cohabiting, so not married.

 

The pro marriage policy of Singapore is mirrored by many other Asian countries and indeed western counties too, in the pursuit of societal stability. In contrast, the financial and human cost of family breakdown in the UK is a great financial burden that could have been greatly reduced if a strong pro marriage policy had been maintained since the 1960’s onwards.

 

My assumption is that most MPs are looking for examples of countries that are protecting people in cohabitation arrangements. They are not looking at countries that have strong pro marriage laws and policies such as Singapore. When I lived there it was only expats that cohabited, not Singaporeans. Same sex marriage and civil unions are not available in Singapore which also does not recognise a same sex marriage/civil union certificate from countries that do permit same sex marriage and heterosexual civil unions.

 

General comments

Cohabitation destroys the incentive to get married. It is an easy option that offers a ‘try before you buy’ experience. Once trapped in a cohabitation arrangement, escape is very difficult. The problem is that passion and sexual satisfaction is fickle as the basis for a relationship. Marriage or a civil partnership require the consent of both parties to a lasting relationship. This makes the parties involved become serious about their relationship.

 

Another difficultly of extending protection of marriage or a civil partnership to cohabitation is it will complicate the very relationships is proports to support. The key problem is to define when a cohabitation that is formed qualifies for protection. This could be defined in terms of duration, if they have had children together or other factors. Given the whole point of cohabitation is an informal arrangement, when would it deemed a ‘protected’ relationship? People who choose cohabitation, by definition have rejected a ‘protected’ relationship such as marriage or a civil partnership. To extend the ‘protections’ of these to what was an informal arrangement undermines the rationale for cohabitation.

 

Consider that a cohabitation of more than 5 years or birth/adoption of a child would extend protection to a cohabiting couple. This would most likely trap many in a cohabitation arrangement that they did not want to formalised. In fact, it would both dilute marriage and greatly complicate what are by nature loose, informal relationships. What I mean is they cannot eat their cake and still have their cake! They can either accept the risks of an informal arrangement or make a commitment to a marriage or civil union. What they cannot do is cherry pick the benefits of both, but without accepting the responsibilities that they bring.   

 

June 2021