Cohabiting couples could be waiting years for meaningful reform of the law to better protect them, a cross-party group of MPs has warned – urging the government to reconsider its timetable.

The government told the Commons women and equalities select committee last year that existing work on the law of marriage and divorce must conclude before any changes to the law regarding the rights of cohabitants on relationship breakdown were considered. The committee was also told the government must focus its commitment to review the law of financial provision on divorce – which the Law Commission has just begun work on.

However, in a letter to justice minister Lord Bellamy today, committee chair Caroline Nokes pointed out that the commission aims to publish a scoping paper in September 2024 ahead of a full review.

‘Clearly, any agreed changes could take many years to come into effect. If the government was to then conduct further consultation on reforming cohabitation law, as suggested in its response, cohabitants would have to wait even longer before seeing any meaningful change. On changes to weddings law, the Law Commission itself – in its recommendations to the government – observed that cohabitation law reform is still necessary even if there are changes to the legal formalities of getting married,’ Nokes said.

The committee saw no reason why reviewing divorce and weddings law should prevent the government from pursuing a ‘separate, bespoke regime for cohabitants now’, she added.

‘We ask the government to reconsider its response and to provide basic legal protections for millions of people, many of whom face financial hardship if their relationship breaks down or their partner passes away.’ 

After successfully campaigning for no-fault divorce, cohabitation reform is likely to be family law group's next big campaign after a member survey identified it as a top priority.

The number of cohabiting couples has increased around 1.5 million in 1996 to now over 3.6 million.

A government spokesperson said: 'Marriage holds an important place in our society and we are currently looking at the law around it before considering any changes to the rights of cohabiting partners. There remain other legal options for cohabiting couples in the meantime.'


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