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Cohabiting Couples and Their Rights

14th January, 2015

“Will you Marry Me?” The words some have longed to hear but, for what ever reason, they have just not been said.

Sandy Edwards, local family specialist at Aaron & Partners Shrewsbury office, admits that she is in fact married (although she says her husband didn’t actually pop the question!).

Sandy says, “We discussed getting married, or rather I discussed getting married, and then we got engaged and eventually tied the knot.” Many of Sandy’s close friends, however, remain unmarried and yet they have been in settled and committed relationships for many years. Many of them have children.

Sandy continues, “I would like to think that I married for love, but then I am a divorce lawyer so maybe a not-so-small part of me also recognised the advantages of being married as opposed to simply cohabiting.

“It never ceases to amaze me how ill informed the general public is about the rights, or more accurately the lack of rights, of cohabiting couples on separation.”

Opinions are divided on whether cohabitees should be afforded greater protection by the law. Sir James Munby, the Judge who heads the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales, expressed the view at a recent family law conference that they should, whereas retired High Court Judge Sir Paul Coleridge takes a different view, suggesting that to give cohabiting couples the same rights as married couples would be “naïve and send the wrong message”. But then Sir Paul Coleridge was speaking to the Daily Mail and he does run/fund an avidly pro-marriage ‘think tank’.

Sandy, who has many years experience of advising separating couples in Shropshire, is firmly on the side of reform. She says, “All too often people think that they have a claim as a “Common Law Spouse” or because they have children, but the first is a myth and the latter is not true, save in circumstances where the other parent is particularly wealthy.”

Sandy is firmly of the view that just because the words have never been said or the time has not been right to get married it does not mean that someone who may have devoted a large portion of their life to a relationship and had children with their partner should walk away with nothing. Conversely Sandy accepts that someone who may have built up wealth over time should not be expected to share it with a short term partner who has contributed nothing financially.

The law governing cohabiting couples is currently the subject of much discussion and may change in the future. The second reading of the aptly named “Cohabitation Bill” took place in the House of Lords in December 2014 but as yet no decision has been made as to whether it will be made law. Until the law does change, Sandy believes that it is vital for cohabiting couples to take independent legal advice and review their situation as their lives change, particularly if children come along.

Sandy, a member of Resolution and also collaboratively trained, offers a free initial 30 minute appointment at the firm’s Shrewsbury office at Abbey Lawn, and is happy to discuss these issues with anyone who has concerns.

Sandy can be contacted on 01743 453689 or [email protected]

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