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Government shelves cohabitation reform

The Law Commission has expressed its disappointment at the government’s announcement that it will not go ahead at the moment with proposals for the reform of cohabitation law. “We hope that implementation will not be delayed beyond the early days of the next parliament, in view of the hardship and injustice caused by the current law,” said Professor Elizabeth Cooke, the commissioner who has ?overseen the project.

28 October 2011

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“The prevalence of cohabitation, and of the birth of ?children to couples who live together, means that the need ?for reform of the law can only become more pressing over time,” Cooke continued.

The commission’s report Cohabitation: the financial consequences of relationship breakdown, which was presented to the government in 2007 after a two-year consultation, recommended that financial remedies should be available to cohabitants on separation provided certain eligibility criteria were met. The report suggested an intermediate regime allowing claims on a former cohabitant’s property only if the pair had had a child together or lived together for several years. Courts would make awards based only on each ex-partner’s contributions, and those who wished to opt out could do so.

The Labour government, which was in place at the time, ?had said that it would await the outcome of further research into the effectiveness of similar rules that were introduced in Scotland under the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006.

However, justice minister Jonathan Djanogly said in a written statement at the beginning of September that the Scottish experience did not justify similar reform in England and Wales. “The findings of the research into the Scottish legislation do not provide us with a sufficient basis for a change in the law.

“The family justice system is in a transitional period, with major reforms already on the horizon. We do not therefore intend to take forward the Law Commission’s recommendations for reform of cohabitation law in this parliamentary term.” n

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