In order to claim as a cohabitant, Joy had to establish under the current law that for two years up to his death she had lived in the same household as Norman as his wife or that immediately before his death she was being maintained wholly or partly by him. In 2011, the Law Commission published the draft Inheritance (Cohabitants) Bill intended to give some unmarried partners who had lived together for 5 years, the right to inherit on each other's death under the intestacy rules without going to court. The Law Commission distinguished between cohabitant's rights on death and on separation, reflecting the growing prevalence and public acceptance of cohabitation. However, the previous Government shelved those proposals in March 2013.
An interesting feature of yesterday's decision is that Maureen has been ordered to pay £100,000 towards Joy's costs, and the legal bill for both Joy and Maureen is no doubt set to grow much more with the intended appeal. Providing automatic rights for cohabitants on death would assist in reflecting the way modern families are increasingly choosing to live their lives outside marriage, as well as potentially reducing or eliminating future disputes, thereby reducing expense and distress to those who have suffered a bereavement in these increasingly common circumstances.
Last week, the Library of Commons published a briefing paper relating to ‘common law marriage’ and cohabitation across England and Wales.
The paper includes statistics for the number of cohabitants in Britain, and general information regarding how the law applies to these cohabitants and future reformation proposals from the Law Commission. The briefing paper is available here.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn and has been reproduced here with kind permission.