Legal protection for unmarried couples
Unmarried couples are the flavour of the 21st century, with one in eight adults in England and Wales cohabiting, a figure rising since 2002. But these couples are sadly at risk if they separate or one is left bereaved, and need to take steps to protect their family.
England and Wales’ laws have not caught up to the 21st century here. Common law marriages exist in the U.S., Canada and Australia, which secure non-married, cohabiting couples effectively the same legal and financial rights and protections as married couples. However, recent surveys highlight that 2/3 cohabiting couples did not realise these protections do not exist in England and Wales.
This means that unmarried couples could be together for decades until one suddenly walks away leaving all their responsibilities behind. This is usually at the expense of women and children left behind, especially if the mother gave up or went part-time on her job to raise the family.
Governments have been urged to address this and introduce basic protections for cohabiting couples as a vital move towards ensuring fair outcomes for millions of people.
Meanwhile, government must do its best to raise the profile of these issues and challenge the myth that is common law marriage.
Couples must be aware that their lack of protections can leave them at risk if they separate and have the chance to safeguard their families and livelihoods.