Proposed changes in law for unmarried couples living together

A private members bill has been introduced to the House of Lords to give additional rights to some couples who are unmarried but living together.

If it becomes law, the new private members bill will give those who live together with children legal obligations to one another that do not currently exist. Parents who are not married will have the right to apply to the Court within 2 years of separation for financial orders similar to those available to married couples.

Common law marriage hasn't existed in law since 1753, but despite this a public survey in 2008 found that 51% of the population believed that those living together had the same rights as married couples when they separated.

The current laws relating to those who live together and have children are uncertain in outcome involving complex legal procedures. Outcomes are often felt unfair or unsatisfactory by those of us who practise this area of the law. The rights of those who live together without marrying and who then separate are very different to the rights of those who marry and then divorce.

To address many of the problems that an ever growing sector of the population face, a Law Commission report in 2007 proposed that those couples living together who had one or more children should have the right in law to apply to the Court for different types of financial orders to be made when separating. The findings and recommendations of the Law Commission report were not adopted by this Government who in September 2011 said there were no plans to introduce any new laws relating to cohabitation.

In recent years there has been a steady decline in the number of those marrying each year. Figures for 2012 published by the Office for National Statistics reveal that in 2012 almost half of all children born that year were born to parents who were not married or in a civil partnership. Those who live together and have children are therefore an ever increasing body of the population.

Research recently carried out by the Marriage Foundation estimates that 90% of all children born to parents who are not married but living together will experience their parents separate by the time they reach the age of 15. Has the problem of unmarried parents who separate therefore become too big for the Government to ignore? Whist this Government increasingly supports and promotes the concept of marriage because those relationships that fail are more likely than not to be of parents and couples who live together but not marry, the statistics reveal that many simply chose not to live together.

If you think these changes may affect you and would like more information, please contact our Family team on 0113 201 4900 or email

Gabbie  Clasper

Written by

Gabbie Clasper

Head of Family Law

Gabbie has over 20 years’ experience in family law. She has expert knowledge in complex issues including financial aspects following divorce; pre and post-nuptial agreements; cases with an international element; and civil partnerships. Gabbie is regularly instructed by clients based across the country and abroad. She...

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