Cohabitation Reform in England and Wales

A one-day conference reflecting on cohabitation policy and reform.

Friday 27 January 2023

Inner Temple, London

Cohabitation reform is a pressing issue in England and Wales. Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family form but, given the lack of comprehensive legal protections upon breakdown or death, often experience relationship generated disadvantage. While these issues have been acknowledged by practitioners and academics for decades, they were emphasised more recently by the Rights of Cohabiting Partners Report of the Women and Equalities Committee of the UK Parliament.

This one-day conference brought together academics, practitioners, and policymakers to reflect on how cohabitation reform can be secured in England and Wales. It involved a series of presentations by experts in the field and the launch of research findings of a major comparative study on cohabitation undertaken by Professor Jens Scherpe and Dr Andy Hayward. The final plenary of the day was hosted by Family Law Reform Now, which is a group of academics and practitioners campaigning for reform in key areas of family law.


9:00  - Welcome - Dr Andy Hayward (Durham University) 

Session 1: The Legal Status of De Facto Relationships Book

Chair: Professor Geoffrey Willems (UCLouvain) 

9:15 – 10:15 - Research Findings
Professor Jens Scherpe (Aalborg University) and Dr Andy Hayward (Durham University)

Session 2: Comparative Perspectives on Cohabitation

Chair: Professor Jens Scherpe (Aalborg University) 

11:00 – 11:20 -  Scotland
Kate Dowdalls KC (Scottish Law Commission)

11:20 – 11:40 - Ireland
Dr Kathryn O’Sullivan (University of Limerick)

11:40 – 12:00 -  New Zealand
Professor Margaret Briggs (University of Otago) (online)

Session 3: Reforming Cohabitation Law: Academic Perspectives

Chair: Dr Anna Heenan (University of Cambridge)

1:40 – 2:00 - Common Law Marriage Myth
Professor Anne Barlow (University of Exeter)

2:00 – 2:20 - Equal Civil Partnerships and Cohabitation Reform
Dr Andy Hayward (Durham University)

2:20 – 2:40 - Law Commission Intestacy and Family Provision Proposals
Dr Brian Sloan (University of Cambridge) (online)

2:40 – 3:00 - Weddings Reform and Religious-only Marriages
Professor Rebecca Probert (University of Exeter) (online)

Session 4: Cohabitation Law in Practice

Chair: Dr Sharon Thompson (Cardiff University)

3:30 – 3:50 - Resolution: A View from the Coalface
Graeme Fraser (BBS Law and Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation Committee)

3:50 – 4:10 - Schedule 1 – Fit for Modern Society?
Joshua Viney (1 Hare Court)

4:10 – 4:30 - TOLATA claims and the views of the FLBA in respect of law reform
Elizabeth Darlington (1GC Family Law)

Session 5: Family Law Reform Now Plenary Session

Chairs: Dr Charlotte Bendall (University of Birmingham) and Dr Rehana Parveen (University of Birmingham)

5:00 – 6:00  - Q&A with:
Professor Russell Sandberg (Cardiff University)
Jo Edwards (Forsters)
Graeme Fraser (BBS and Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation Committee) 
Michael Horton KC (Coram Chambers)


Panel recordings

We have uploaded recordings of the panel sessions to the Family Law Reform Now Youtube account.

FLRN Youtube


The Cohabitation conference generated a lot of discussion, and the following resources may be of interest:

This event was organised by Dr Andy Hayward (Durham Law School), Professor Jens Scherpe (University of Aalborg), Dr Anna Heenan (University of Cambridge), Dr Charlotte Bendall (University of Birmingham), Dr Rehana Parveen (University of Birmingham), Dr Sharon Thompson (Cardiff University) and Dr Ellen Gordon-Bouvier (University of Exeter).

In association with: 

Durham University logo - Durham Law SchoolCardiff University Centre of Law and SocietyLogo of CFL - Cambridge Family Law