Family law group Resolution has called for a change in the law governing the rights of unmarried partners in England and Wales, as the organisation marks its 40th anniversary by launching a campaign to raise awareness of issues in the family justice system.

During Resolution’s Awareness Week (formerly Good Divorce Week), which runs from 27 November–1 December 2023, the group of family law professionals unveiled its ‘Vision for Family Justice’. The document highlights issues in the family justice system in England and Wales and sets out its suggestions for reform.

Central to its proposals are calls to update the laws relating to cohabiting partners on separation. Currently, couples who live together have little legal protection when they separate.

With an increasing number of people choosing to live together without being married or in a civil partnership, Resolution has urged the government to recognise the changing face of families by introducing a legal framework of rights and responsibilities for cohabiting couples.

Resolution proposes urgent reform to make financial remedies available to separating cohabitees, subject to certain eligibility criteria. The Vision document suggests that the orders a court should be able to make for cohabiting couples are along the same lines as those available to married couples, although granted on a different and more limited basis.

Resolution also recommends a review of the law relating to financial provision for children of unmarried parents and the introduction of protections following the death of a cohabiting partner.

Cohabiting couple families accounted for almost one in five families in the UK in 2022, with ‘opposite-sex cohabiting couple’ being the fastest-growing family type over the last ten years, according to ONS data.

In 2022, opposite-sex cohabiting couple families comprised 18% of all families (3.6 million), an increase from 16% of all families (2.9 million) in 2012. This increase of almost 700,000 families accounted for almost three-quarters of the total growth in the number of families in the UK over the ten-year period.

Resolution’s proposals come on the back of research undertaken by the family law group, which found that almost half of unmarried couples do not know they lack certain legal rights should they split up.

According to a poll of 551 cohabitees, 35% of respondents feared they would be left homeless and one in three feared significant financial hardship in the event of a break-up. Half of those polled had no plans to get married, with a third of respondents stating they do not believe in marriage.

Research also revealed that 74% of cohabitees agreed that “the current laws surrounding cohabitation are unfit for today’s modern society”, with 59% backing better legal protections for cohabiting people.

A separate poll of Resolution’s membership, which comprises 6,500 family justice professionals who promote a non-confrontational approach to resolving family issues, found that 85% of members believe the law in this area needs updating.

Under current law, it is possible to live with someone for decades and to have children together, but then simply walk away with the economically stronger party taking no financial responsibility for a former partner when the relationship breaks down. It can create hardship, particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her working hours to raise a family.

“If one party has been the stay-at-home parent whilst the other is the breadwinner, why should it be right that the main carer leaves the relationship with potentially far less than the breadwinner?” questioned the report.

Jo Edwards, chair of Resolution’s family law reform committee, said: “This research has a very clear message: many people do not want to get married or feel unable to do so. Those choices – or lack of choices – should not exclude them from legal protection if their relationship comes to an end.

“As Resolution looks to the future, it’s clear that reforming the law around cohabitants’ rights on separation to ensure they have proper legal protections is both vital and widely supported,” she said.

Other recommendations in the blueprint include more public funding for early legal information, a proposal to include mandatory co-parenting programmes earlier in the separation process and the suggestion that certain contested financial remedy cases should be fast-tracked.

Click here to read Resolution’s full Vision for Family Justice report.

Family Lawyers Portsmouth

At Larcomes, all our family solicitors are committed to the Resolution Code of Practice, which promotes an approach to family law that is sensitive, constructive, cost-effective and will most likely result in an agreement.

Our focus is to help you find a solution that works for you and your family, whether through negotiation, mediation, or court proceedings.

In early December, experienced family law solicitor and Resolution-accredited Adrian Silk is moving to our Waterlooville office, where he will head up the Family Law division and continue to support our clients with all their family law needs.

During his career, Adrian has represented different clients on various legal issues, including divorce, children, grandparents’ rights, powers of attorney and financial remedy disputes.

Whether you are thinking about a divorce or separation, or want advice on children’s matters, financial settlements within divorce, or any other family matter, Larcomes’ team of family law specialists can help.

For a free, no-obligation, and confidential discussion, call us on 023 9244 8100 or make an online enquiry.

For more information about Larcomes’ Family Law team, click here.

Please note that this article is not intended as legal or professional advice. It is for general guidance only, and updates to the law may have changed since it was published.