Parliament is being urged to increase legal protection for unmarried couples sharing a home. The call from the Law Society coincides with the publication of a discussion paper, Sharing Homes, from the Law Commission.
The paper debates problems that can arise when couples live together, such as whether an individual whose name is not on the mortgage, but makes contributions to the mortgage or upkeep of the property can obtain rights to a share in the property.
It concluded: ‘It is not possible to devise a statutory scheme for the determination of shares in a shared home which can operate fairly and evenly.’
The commission recommended people living together investigate the legal consequences of their decision and agree their rights by executing a declaration of trust.
Edward Goldsmith, partner of solicitors Goldsmith Williams, was disappointed the Law Commission had failed to come up with a solution.
‘People need to be told if they are planning to live together over the long term they must get their name on the mortgage ‘ and not rely on goodwill,’ he said.
According to the Law Society, cohabitees mistakenly believe they have similar rights to spouses on separation. As a result, the Law Society Council has issued its support to a statement that summarises the rights of couples that live together.
The proposed ‘rights’ include legal protection for cohabitees (of the same and opposite sex) once they have lived together for two years, or if they have had a child.
As many couples wait until they are older before marrying, or put off marriage altogether, cohabitation is becoming increasingly common. According to the Law Society, one in four children is born to cohabiting parents.
Carolyn Kirby, president of the Law Society said the UK’s legal system must evolve to recognise changes in society.
‘The term common law partner has no legal meaning, which means on separation cohabitees can be left without any resources. The law must be reformed to reflect modern life. We will lobby for the law to be changed to protect the vulnerable,’ she said.