European Journal of Law Reform

Article

‘Living in Sin’: A Reform Proposal for Financial Relief Following Cohabitation Breakdown

Keywords cohabitation, financial relief, family trusts, common law marriage
Authors Luke Tattersall
Author's information

253264 Luke Tattersall
Luke Tattersall is a trainee-barrister and Research Assistant in Law at Durham University. All opinions, errors and omissions are solely those of the author.
  • Abstract

      The number of adults choosing to cohabit has increased by over 67% since 1991. Despite such a dramatic shift in social norms, the law governing financial relief upon relationship breakdown remains inept to handle the significant increase in cohabitants. This article examines how the current system of family trusts constitutes an archaic and inadequate means of dividing cohabitants’ assets. The law of trusts fails to reflect the subtleties of personal relationships, often resulting in financial injustice. The author goes on to consider the notion of common law marriage, highlighting how despite attempts by both the government and policy makers to dispel the concept it nevertheless remains prevalent throughout the United Kingdom. The core counterargument to extending financial relief is that it would undermine the institution of marriage and obscure the boundaries between cohabitant and spouse. This article critically examines this claim, adopting cross-jurisdictional analysis by considering the experiences of Scotland, Ireland and Australia where cohabitants have greater financial rights before concluding that the argument fails to stand up to scrutiny. The author ends by advancing a series of reforms designed to vindicate cohabitants, resulting in a fairer distribution of assets and bringing legal recognition to the United Kingdom’s largest growing family unit.

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