Securing Cohabitation Reform in England and Wales

Supported by the Family Law Reform Now network

Since the 1970s there has been an exponential increase in the number of cohabiting families However, in England and Wales cohabitants are generally treated differently to spouses and civil partners and often receive inferior legal protections. Upon relationship breakdown courts cannot divide assets as they would upon divorce or dissolution and any entitlement is determined using property law principles that are unsympathetic to the realities of home-sharing. Following the death of a partner, cohabitants receive no automatic entitlement under the intestacy rules and are limited to claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Given the prioritisation of formalised relationships there are a myriad of other distinctions. 

Although reform proposals have been produced by the Law Commission and Bills introduced into Parliament, to date no meaningful change has occurred. Most recently the review of this area by the Women and Equalities Committee exposed the vulnerability faced by cohabitants but, again, future reform has been rejected by the Government.

This context, and the equalities issues that it raises, form the impetus behind this project. Cohabitation reform is long overdue in England and Wales and thus the intention of this project is to place this issue back on the political agenda. Through working with academics, practitioners and policymakers, this project brings together experts in the field to coordinate efforts to secure reform. 

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This project is led by Dr Andy Hayward, Associate Professor in Family Law at Durham Law School, who acted as Specialist Adviser to the Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry into the Rights of Cohabiting Partners.

2023 Conference: Cohabitation Reform in England and Wales, Friday 27 January 2023.