"I am seriously concerned that many cohabiting couples are unaware that they have very little in the way of financial rights should they split. "
A Merseyside lawyer is calling for a change in the law, claiming the current system is preventing him from helping warring cohabiting couples.
Paul Hunt from Kirwans law firm, who is a member of family justice group Resolution, said he sees many clients who wrongly believe they are automatically entitled to financial rights from their former ‘common-law’ spouse.
Now he is backing the growing number of campaigners demanding legal changes to protect those who choose to set up home together but not to marry.
He said: “Cohabitation is an increasing form of family arrangement, and, on the face of it, appears to barely differ from the set-up of a married couple.
“However, the law falls woefully behind when it comes to this area, which means that solicitors assisting ex-partners battling the division of assets tend to have to focus on property ownership and trust law rather than on any formal rules governing cohabiting couples.
“I am seriously concerned that many cohabiting couples are unaware that they have very little in the way of financial rights should they split.
“The limitations of the law mean that these families are extremely vulnerable to severe financial hardship in the event that the relationship breaks down.
“On splitting up, many people are left adrift, having been under the mistaken belief that they would be entitled to a share of the home and having also assumed that they would be in much the same position as other people they know who have gone through divorces.”
Paul has spoken out about the realities facing unmarried couples after a poll by Resolution found that two thirds of people in cohabiting relationships are unaware that there is no such thing as ‘common-law marriage’ in this country.
The same poll found that 79pc of the public agree that there is a need for greater legal protection for unmarried couples upon separation, and that 84pc believe that the government should take steps to ensure unmarried cohabiting couples are aware that they do not have the same legal protection as married couples.
Paul said: ““There is an argument that people may have chosen not to marry because they had a very definite view about not wanting to make legal commitments to each other.
“However, even when there is no separation there can be other unintended sad consequences for cohabiting couples if, for example, the property owner has not made a will providing for their partner. The intestacy rules do not protect non-spouses.”
“While there are no specific laws regarding this type of relationship, there are some measures lawyers can take to avoid a legal battle on behalf of their clients.
“The best way for cohabiting couples to protect themselves is to enter into a cohabitation agreement, and be clear about what they would expect to walk away with should the relationship come to an end.”