ALMOST 40,000 cohabiting partners in Lancashire will soon have similar rights to married couples if they break up.

Cohabiting partners currently have no financial rights if their relationship breaks down regardless of how long they have lived together. If the couple have children, the partner who has residence will receive child maintenance but can make few other claims.

The Law Commission is proposing to give cohabitees who split up protections similar to those for divorcing couples. The rules will stop short of guaranteed rights to a financial share meaning the courts would have similar discretion to award maintenance payments, a lump sum or share of the property as they would for divorcing couples, but the right would not be automatic.

Antonia Love, head of family law at Farleys Solicitors, has advised couples from across the region on divorce, family and separation issues.

She said: “Cohabitees will have to prove they have suffered or will suffer financially as a result of the split, so claims from couples who have ended a short relationship will probably fail and those from people with children are most likely to succeed. The reforms will apply to both opposite and same sex couples.”

The 2001 census found that there were 37,509 cohabiting households in Lancashire – a figure which has since increased following the decline of marriage. The rise in cohabiting couples – which has led to the legal reforms – has been linked to people being granted increasing financial settlements when they get divorced.

The majority of cohabiting couples are unaware of their lack of rights and wrongly believe that cohabitation makes them ‘common law’ husband and wife – something which doesn’t exist in UK law – and that they have the same rights as married couples.

Antonia added: “No date has been set for the implementation of the new laws governing cohabiting couples, but the only way of cohabitees guaranteeing they are not financially affected by a relationship breakdown is to draft up a written agreement with the help of a solicitor to ensure assets are fairly divided in the event of a break-up.

Whilst preparing a written agreement may not seem very romantic, it has the potential to save a lot of time, money and heartache in the future.”

For a free consultation, speak with a Family Lawyer at Farleys Solicitors LLP now, please call 0845 287 0939 or contact us by e-mail.