Solicitor joins fight for cohabiting
A Merseyside lawyer is calling for a
change in the law, claiming the current system is preventing him from helping
warring cohabiting couples. Paul Hunt from Kirwans law firm, which has offices
in Hoghton Street in Southport, is a member of family justice group Resolution
and said he sees many clients who wrongly believe they are automatically
entitled to financial rights from their former 'common law' spouse.
Now he is backing the growing number of campaigners demanding legal changes to
protect those who choose to set up home together, but not to marry.
He said:- "Cohabitation is an increasing form of family arrangement, and,
on the face of it, appears to barely differ from the set up of a married couple.
However, the law falls woefully behind when it comes to this area, which means
that solicitors assisting ex-partners battling the division of assets tend to
have to focus on property ownership and trust law rather than on any formal
rules governing cohabiting couples.
I am seriously concerned that many cohabiting couples are unaware that they have
very little in the way of financial rights should they split.
The limitations of the law mean that these families are extremely vulnerable to
severe financial hardship in the event that the relationship breaks down. On
splitting up, many people are left adrift, having been under the mistaken belief
that they would be entitled to a share of the home and having also assumed that
they would be in much the same position as other people they know who have gone
Paul has spoken out about the realities facing unmarried couples after a poll by
Resolution found that ⅔ of people in cohabiting relationships are
unaware that there is no such thing as 'common law marriage' in this country.
The same poll found that 79% of the public agree that there is a need for
greater legal protection for unmarried couples upon separation, and that 84%
believe that the Government should take steps to ensure unmarried cohabiting
couples are aware that they do not have the same legal protection as married
Paul said:- "There is an argument that people may have chosen not to marry
because they had a very definite view about not wanting to make legal
commitments to each other.
However, even when there is no separation there can be other unintended sad
consequences for cohabiting couples if, for example, the property owner has not
made a will providing for their partner. The intestacy rules do not protect
While there are no specific laws regarding this type of relationship, there are
some measures lawyers can take to avoid a legal battle on behalf of their
clients. The best way for cohabiting couples to protect themselves is to enter
into a cohabitation agreement, and be clear about what they would expect to walk
away with should the relationship come to an end."