The recession has caused an ‘explosion’ in the number of cohabiting couples seeking advice on relationship breakdown, according to family lawyers who have called for the ‘complex’ laws applied to them to be updated.

Vanessa Lloyd Platt, founder of London firm Lloyd Platt & Co, said: ‘We have seen an explosion in the number of cohabitees coming to us to deal with the breakdown of their relationships, with cases up 15% over the last three months.’

She said part of the rise is because fewer people are marrying, but she attributed the recent surge to the impact of the recession.

‘Struggling relationships are ending sooner than they otherwise might, due to the economic climate, particularly where one partner owns the home in which they live,’ said Lloyd Platt.

She said: ‘People need to release the capital from their homes in order to live, especially if they have been made redundant or face the prospect of losing their job.’

Lloyd Platt said the law in relation to cohabitees is ‘complex’ and disadvantages women who may have given up a career to take care of children, and should be brought in line with the law applied to married people and same sex couples in civil partnerships.

Gianna Lisiecki, acting head of the family team at Manchester firm JMW, said she had seen a definite increase in the number of cohabitation disputes in recent months. ‘People are under financial strain, which can place pressure on their relationship and as a consequence causes some relationships to breakdown,’ said Lisiecki.

But Caroline Falkus, partner and collaborative lawyer at north London firm Bross Bennett, said the effect of the recession will not be felt by most couples until next year when the public sector spending cuts start to bite.

She said cohabiting clients are suffering because of the outdated law that is applied to them. ‘Relying on ancient trust law to unpick the threads of a loving relationship over many years is clearly ridiculous,’ she said, and called for civil partnerships to be extended to heterosexual couples.