Yesterday, 10 October, Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Attorney General, told the Labour Party Conference that if the Party wins the next election, a Labour Government would reform the law to give cohabiting partners in England and Wales rights to equal shares of property in the event of a breakup and the ability to claim short-term financial support. Her proposed reform would be modelled on similar schemes in Scotland, Ireland and New Zealand: in New Zealand, for example, couples who have lived together for more than three years are classed as being in “de facto relationships” and their property is divided in the same way as between separating couples who are married.
She suggested that women were particularly disadvantaged by the current absence of legal protection for cohabitants. Although a claim could be made for financial support for a child against the other parent, she argued that those payments were often less generous than divorce settlements. The full text of her speech is here.
The issue was the subject of a study by the Law Commission, which published its final report in 2007. The Commission recommended new rights for people who had lived together for a minimum period of two to five years under which the courts would have been able to award financial relief based on contributions to the relationship – but its proposals were not taken forward. According to the 2021 Census returns, almost a quarter of couples living together in England and Wales are cohabiting, ie not in a marriage or civil partnership – up from just over one-fifth in 2011.