Written evidence from Jim Prestidge [HAB0136]

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

My opinion is that cohabitation should be called marriage, whether it is official or not, provided that the relationship is serious and intended to last. That would focus on what these relationships are about, rather than on the trappings. We used to have the term common law marriage, which meant that the couple had decided to live together, without undertaking a witnessed agreement.

A legal definition is difficult, but there has to be one. It should include

This marriage carries no rights and therefore should not be entered into lightly. Because it carries no rights it is easy to administer, until there are consequences.

Because unregistered marriages are on the increase, Government should act to discourage them. Government should lay a hand on the media, that they cooperate.

In the event of an unregistered marriage breaking down, legislation should oblige the couple to make satisfactory arrangements to safeguard the children.

A registered marriage should carry full rights, including protection and social security benefits. A church marriage carries full rights and in addition the support, guidance and protection offered by the church. The couple enjoy the benefits of christian teaching on conduct, relationships and morality. Society should look at ways of giving this considerable benefit in other types of relationship.

I am asking for responsibility to be put on the individuals, not exercised by the State. Individual responsibility is at a low ebb and needs strengthening. An overwhelming proportion of society would consider that to be right.

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

An unregistered marriage should be treated in the same way as a registered marriage in the case of the death of one of the partners.

An unregistered marriage can always be terminated without restriction or obligation on the State. The partners should then be considered as unmarried persons.

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

In an unregistered marriage equality principles are the same as for any two people sharing the same house. If one is ill treated or abused, the law should apply as with a stranger.


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

Partners in an unregistered marriage should themselves be held responsible for the good of their children, both individually and jointly.

Very great care must be exercised in allowing them to adopt a child, since the security of a full marriage cannot (in general be guaranteed.


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

Partners in an unregistered marriage should have the same rights as unmarried people.

    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?

I don’t know enough about this. The Government should certainly look at practice in other countries, especially those with a different culture, such as south east Asia and some african tribal practices, such as the ndebele in Zimbabwe.

What I have written may seem to be out of touch with modern reality. The fact is that changes over the last sixty years have produced new problems. We cannot go back to the past, nor would that be desirable. We should give careful attention to improving the future. In particular we should look at consequences of the trends and the consequences of action we now take. We should build responsibility and a desire to live better lives. That involves people turning away from limited personal desires and taking a broader view of their lives and how people fit together into a stable community.

We should look to building a different kind of society, one which does not generate problems. We need a society into which everyone fits and is proud to belong.


July 2021