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LexisPSL Family, 29 NOV 2018

Rights for unmarried couples: legislation needs to change

Rights for unmarried couples: legislation needs to change

Maeve O’Higgins, partner at Burlingtons, provides an overview of the legislative climate for unmarried cohabiting couples. O’Higgins examines changes to legislation that impact unmarried cohabitants’ rights, and considers areas where change is still needed.

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What are the key changes in legislation for cohabiting couples’ rights in the last few years?

Domestic abuse

Co-habitants have similar rights tospouses and civil partners to obtain protection from the courts against domestic abuse by their partners, by way of non-molestation orders and occupation orders in respect of the family home, under Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996.

The offence of coercive control, introduced under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, applies to people in ‘intimate personal relationships’ or ‘the same family’, including cohabitants and ex-cohabitants.


The legal position of non-EU national unmarried partners wanting to enter or remain in the UK with their British partner is similar to that of married partners. In order for an unmarried partner to obtain the right to enter or remain in the UK, the couple need tohave been living together for at least two years.

Social housing — succession rights to secure tenancies

The Localism Act 2011 altered thesuccession rights of people living with secure council tenants in England—inrespect of council tenancies created after April 2012—by limiting the right to succeed to the tenancy to the spouse or partner of the deceased tenant. This brought succession rights in relation to council tenancies in line with succession rights in relation to housing association assured tenancies.

The Housing and Planning Act 2016 (HPA2016)—which has not yet been brought into force— includes provisions furtherrestricting the right to succeed to a secure tenancy to the spouses, civil partners and cohabitants of a secure council tenant, irrespective of when the tenancy was created. These changes are linked to the removal of the ability of local authorities to provide life time tenancies to new tenants.

The Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 — which had cross-party support and received Royal Assent in May 2018 — ensures that victims of domestic violence...

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Interviewed by Samantha Gilbert. The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.