Government backs down on reform for live-in couples.
FAMILY lawyers in Liverpool reacted with disappointment to a Government decision ruling out any changes to cohabitation law in the lifetime of this Parliament.
Experts said the law regarding couples who live together but do not marry was unsatisfactory and unnecessarily complex.
They pointed out there is no such thing as a "common law marriage", which leaves unmarried partners with limited legal protection should the relationship break down.
Recommendations for reform were first made by the Law Commission in 2007, but none of its recommendations - which would enhance the rights and responsibilities of cohabitants after a break-up - were brought in by the previous administration.
Hopes the coalition Government would introduce the reforms were dashed when Jonathan Djanogly, the under-secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, confirmed no changes to cohabitation law would be made in this Parliamentary term, saying "the family justice system is in a transition al period, with major reforms already on the horizon".
One option for couples who live together but do not marry is to sign a legally binding cohabitation agreement. This could give them more protection under the law than married couples who sign a pre-nuptial agreement, which are not binding in the courts.
Jo-anne Lomax, of Liverpool law firm Morecrofts, said: "While pre-nups have yet to be fully recognised as binding in the courts, the cohabitation agreement is recognised.
"There is a greater need for cohabiting couples to make these agreements because they do not have the same automatic rights as married couples when the relationship breaks down.
"Contrary to what some people believe, there is no such thing as a common law husband or wife. The reason cohabitation agreements are enforced by the courts is because there is no other legal protection for unmarried couples who live together and then separate. A welldrafted cohabitation agreement could cover every eventuality, so a separation is fair in terms of dividing up the ownership of property and other assets.
"Obtaining an agreement such as this is not the most romantic gesture, and is often the last thing couples moving in together want to think about, but, should anything go wrong in future, the cost spent on a cohabitation agreement is likely to be a lot less than going to court to resolve any disputes."
Jo-anne Lomax - co-habitation deals recognised