The reality is that many cohabitants are unaware that they do not enjoy the same rights as married couples.

It is one of the less attractive part of a solicitor`s duty to have to tell a client who has been living with their partner for many years that their rights to seek an interest in the family assets are limited, certainly far more so than if they had been married to each other.

It may be possible to argue that there is an implied Trust, for example, where one partner has contributed towards the purchase of the home or paid some of the mortgage, even though it is not in joint names but Trust law has been described as being indecipherable to lawyers let alone lay clients so it is not surprising that many deserving cases do not reach Court and many parties find themselves considerably worse off at the end of a relationship than they had expected.

All this may be about to change but who knows when. The Cohabitation Rights Bill received its first reading in the House of Lords in June 2015 if and when it will become law.

It seeks to avoid the difficulties of the party left significantly disadvantaged following the breakdown of the relationship and to bring remedies more in line with those available to married couples. Where the parties have a child or where they have lived together for at least two years, the Court would be given the power to make a ‘Financial Settlement Order’ providing certain conditions are met. The remedies available include:

  1. the payment of a lump sum;
  2. transfer of property;
  3. property settlements;
  4. sale of property; and
  5. pension sharing

In the interests of achieving a clean break, there is no provision for the payment of periodical payments as is available to married couples under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

Some are concerned that, if the Bill becomes law, it will be a disincentive to marry whilst others argue that it does no more than reflect what is happening in society and reduces the risks of parties leaving a relationship with being able to meet their reasonable needs.