At the end of October 2013, the Cohabitation Rights Bill 2013 started its progress through Parliament. The Private Member’s Bill aims to give long-term cohabitants rights more akin to those enjoyed by married couples and those in civil partnerships.
At present, a long-term cohabitant has no more legal rights relating to their partner than a person would if they were living with a friend.
The Bill aims to implement recommendations made by the Law Commission in 2007, on which the Government decided not to legislate. It defines long-term cohabitation as cohabitation lasting two years or more. Interestingly, it makes provision for couples who specifically wish not to have legal relations established between them to be able to ‘opt out’.
The Bill as drafted proposes to give a long-term cohabitant the right to bring a claim for a financial settlement against their former partner if they have suffered an economic disadvantage and the court is satisfied that their claim is ‘just and equitable’.
The terms of the settlement would be based on essentially the same factors as a financial settlement on divorce or the dissolution of a civil partnership, including the relative financial positions of the two parties, the arrangements for looking after children and their needs, and so on.
The court would have considerable latitude with regard to the financial settlements it could order, such as the payment of a lump sum, the transfer of (or sale of) a property or properties and even pension sharing.