The Royal Assent of The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill last week introduced no-fault divorce in to English Law and is one of the most significant changes to our divorce law for over 50 years. Such a significant step towards modernising our divorce laws is welcomed by many and will hopefully help reduce the anguish and acrimony many divorcing couples experience, often in the early stages of their separation.

The introduction of no-fault divorce is undoubtedly a big step forward in terms of modernising family law for those that are married, but for those couples who choose not to marry, sadly the wait for law reform continues.

Cohabiting couples are the second largest growing family type and there remains a common misconception amongst many cohabitants that if you live to together for a certain period of time, or have a child / children together, then you can acquire the same, or similar, rights as those who are married. Sadly, this is not the case and has not been for many years, and unmarried couples can find themselves in precarious and vulnerable financial situations on the breakdown of their relationship as a result of the out of date laws.

The Cohabitation Rights Bill received its second reading in the House of Lords in February 2020, but there is still a big question mark over whether this Bill will actually succeed in becoming law. The Bill proposes allowing cohabitants with children, or those without children who have cohabited for two years or more, the right to apply to the Court for a financial settlement order once a relationship comes to an end. It is important to note that whilst the introduction of such reforms would provide unmarried couples with more financial protection than they have now, it will not afford them with the same level of protection available to married couples.

However, the Bill has been surrounded by much controversy. Some people believe that granting automatic rights to cohabitants undermines the sanctity of marriage, and then there are others that have actively chosen not to marry because they do not want the automatic rights that come with being a spouse and do not want such rights automatically imposed on them.

Nonetheless, there is clearly a need for law reform in this area and it is hoped that such law reform will not be too far behind the introduction of no-fault divorce.

If you are in a cohabiting relationship and require advice or assistance, please do not hesitate to get in touch.