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The Cohabitation Rights Bill: protection for unmarried couples in case of bereavement

22nd January 2015 - Christopher Hall
The Cohabitation Rights Bill: protection for unmarried couples in case of bereavement
If I had a girl I should say to her, Marry for love if you can, it wont last, but it is a very interesting experience and makes a good beginning in life. Later on, when you marry for money, for heavens sake let it be big money. There are no other possible reasons for marrying at all. -Nancy Mitford, Christmas Pudding

What happens if you are cohabiting, and the bliss of cohabitation ends because your partner dies? You might expect to inherit or at least stay in your shared home.

Not so. If you are not married you have no automatic right either to live in the house that you share with your partner or inherit any of their assets. On the day he or she dies family members can evict you and take anything that belongs solely to your partner. There is no such legal concept as a common law partner which gives any entitlement to assets. You have to make a claim in the courts to prove that you have lived together for two years as husband and wife.

That is why, on 12 December 2014, the Cohabitation Rights Bill, a Private Members Bill backed by Lord Marks, had its second reading in the House of Lords. The Bill outlines proposals for reform of succession law, so that cohabitees have protection if one of them dies, without needing to enter into the misery of marriage.

Anybody who has been living together as a couple for two years or more, or any cohabiting couple who have a child together, will qualify. But it is not designed to assist friends or siblings who live together.

If there is a valid will, properly prepared and executed, so that no family member can attack it, then the surviving partners rights are protected. A good solicitor will also look at all your affairs, to make sure that you have a separate right to live in the house, whether by will or trust.

There is not always time to make a will, so the new cohabitation bill would be useful in those circumstances, to prevent injustice, and for those who can find no other possible reasons for marrying at all.

Update: The 2014-15 Parliamentary session prorogued without this Bill making any further progress. The first reading of a new Cohabitation Rights Bill took place on 4th June 2015 and is currently awaiting a second reading.

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