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Leading family lawyer welcomes report calling on legal reform for cohabiting families

Posted By:
Morrow Communications

11th Aug 2022

A leading Belfast-based family lawyer has welcomed the recommendations of a recent report by a cross-party MP group demanding reforms to laws around rights for cohabiting couples.

Clare Lenaghan of law firm Millar McCall Wylie believes the recent report from the Women and Equalities Committee, ‘The Rights of Cohabiting Partners’, rightly highlights the long-standing risks faced by cohabiting partners in the event of relationship breakdown or death.

In the report, published in early August 2022, the committee demands reforms to laws which leave cohabiting couples with inferior protections to those who are married or in a civil partnership.

“Cohabiting families are the fastest growing type of family in the UK, having more than doubled from 1.5 million families in 1996,” said Clare Lenaghan.

“Despite this fact, cohabitees are disadvantaged when it comes to legal protection upon separation and death.

“Perhaps most worryingly, there is somewhat of a myth that after a certain amount of time cohabiting, a couple becomes entitled to the same rights as a legally married couple. This is not the case. It was particularly encouraging to hear the Women and Equalities Committee urging Government to inform the public about this common misbelief,” Clare Lenaghan said.

Within its report, the Group calls on Government to legislate for an ‘opt-out’ cohabitation scheme proposed by the Law Commission, which would give cohabiting couples autonomy and protect financially vulnerable individuals. It also expresses concern at the processes involved in accessing a survivor’s pension and keeping the family home after a partner’s death.

Clare Lenaghan continues: “Cohabitees can protect themselves financially through entering into a Cohabitation Agreement. This sets out how property, assets and finances should be dealt with and, whilst it may not be something many couples consider, is extremely helpful should circumstances change.

“It is a positive development to see the Women and Equalities Committee tabling these issues, which unfortunately are all too common for couples and families across the UK,” Clare Lenaghan said.