Two million cohabiting couples “live without legal protection”, study reveals

Some two million cohabiting couples in England have no legal protection should they separate, a major study has revealed.

However, the research, published by Direct Line, shows that more cohabiting couples than ever are seeking legal advice.

According to the report, an estimated two million couples in England are living without the same legal rights and protections afforded to married couples – coined the “protection-gap”.

Contrary to popular opinion, cohabiting couples benefit from very few legal benefits and are financially vulnerable in separation. Couples who live together but do not marry, for example, are not automatically entitled to a share of their partner’s estate or pension when they die, or property and maintenance payments upon separation.

It is therefore advisable to reach a legal agreement should the couple not want to legally join. This can be achieved through a cohabitation agreement – a legal document used to determine how a couple’s assets should be split on separation.

Encouragingly, the study shows that awareness campaigns have had an effect on the general public, with an increasing number of cohabiting couples now seeking legal advice.

The survey of legal professionals shows that three-quarters of solicitors have seen an increase in couples seeking advice on setting up a cohabitation agreement in the last 12 months.  Likewise, one in 10 (nine per cent) family lawyers say this has been a “growing trend” over the last three years.

Commenting on the study, Chloe Couper, Business Manager at Direct Line Life Insurance, said: “It is important unmarried couples realise they have very little legal protection if they move in together and take on joint financial responsibilities, without a cohabitation agreement in place detailing how assets and liabilities like bills are to be dealt with if they split. 

“A cohabitation agreement can prevent lengthy and expensive court proceedings and additional emotional stress after a break-up.”

For help drafting a cohabitation agreement, please get in touch with our expert family law team today.

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Alison Green
Alison joined Mackrell.Solicitors in 1989 and qualified as a solicitor in 1991, becoming a partner in the firm in 2010. Her expertise covers matrimonial work, including divorce and the associated financial and children issues; pre and post-nuptial agreements; co-habitation disputes; civil partnership agreements and the breakdown of civil partnerships.