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PRESS INFORMATION - press enquiries to Sam Dabbs on 07711 672893

3 August 2007

Thousands of children from broken homes could get a better start in life if changes to the rules on co-habitation go ahead, says law firm DWF.

It says the Law Commission’s proposals to give unmarried couples greater rights will reduce the number of children who suffer hardship when a relationship breaks down.

James Maguire, partner with DWF says: “There are around 1.25 million children in England and Wales living in families where the couple are unmarried. If the partners separate, the one who is left looking after the children often experiences financial difficulties and has no claim against their former partner other than child support payments. The courts’ powers to protect children in these circumstances are fairly limited.

“The new rules would put the interests of the children first. Where a couple have had a child together or have lived together for a minimum period – likely to be two to five years – it would give the primary carer greater rights and help protect the standard of living for children if they separated or if one of them died.”

Maguire says the myth of common law marriage is still prevalent in society. “Many people believe that if you live with someone for a significant period then you acquire the same legal rights as married couples. This is a fallacy. Cohabitees have only very limited claims against each other. All they can do is to try and assert an interest in the other's property, but such claims are extremely complex and notoriously difficult to establish.

“It is not enough just to improve public awareness of the situation as there will always be people who cannot get married for various reasons. The existing law is unfair and has a particularly bad impact on children.”

The new proposals are similar to the rules already in force in Scotland, Canada and Australia. Parties would only stand to benefit if they could prove they had suffered an economic disadvantage as a result of the relationship or that the other had benefited as a result of their contribution.

Couples would also be able to opt out by prior agreement, which would be upheld by the courts provided they were happy that the agreement was entered into fairly, without undue influence from the other partner.

Maguire adds: “The proposals are not intended to undermine marriage as people who choose marriage usually do so for other reasons than legal ones. Nor do they propose giving cohabiting couples the same rights as married people. However they would result in a fairer deal for many thousands of children and young people. With a growing number of couples choosing to live together, the legal situation needs to be urgently addressed.”


Notes to editors:

DWF is one of the fastest growing regional law firms in the UK and has recently merged with Ricksons. With over 820 people based in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Preston, DWF provides a range of services grouped under the following practice areas:

Banking & Finance
Business Recovery
Real Estate
Private Client

DWF has developed extensive sector-specific expertise in a number of areas including: automotive, education, food and resourcing. Further information on DWF is available via

Media enquiries to:

Sam Dabbs
Dabbs PR & Marketing
T: 01939 210503 or 07711 672893

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