Features

Why living in sin could cost you dear

Current legislation means that marriage is increasingly a financial rather than a moral judgement. But new law to protect cohabiting couples is still some way off.

The press is full of articles on the perils of living in sin and they are making a financial rather than a moral judgement. There are more than two million cohabiting couples in England and Wales, three-quarters of whom have children. Most believe their status is recognised by law. But they are wrong; they are vulnerable if the relationship ends.

"Many unmarried couples do not realise that in the event of the breakdown of their relationship they have no rights against their former partner unless they have children together or own property," says Margaret Hatwood, a solicitor quoted in FT Money. In other words, you could end up with no home and no share of the household wealth if it all goes wrong. The Law Commission has suggested changes to the law. It is particularly concerned that couples who have been living together for many years and raised children could be left with nothing if one person dies or the relationship ends.

The new rules would most likely only apply to couples with children who have been together for a certain period, perhaps two years, says Kathryn Cooper in The Sunday Times. A final report isn't due until 2007, but there is already some opposition from religious groups and family campaigners who fear reform will undermine marriage. Lawyers, however, are loving it!

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