A leading family lawyer from Sheffield has welcomed moves to introduce new rights for unmarried couples which would offer mothers increased financial security following a separation.
Martin Loxley, a Partner at Irwin Mitchell's Sheffield office, said the Cohabitation Bill would help to ensure young children born out of wedlock are provided for in the event of their parents splitting up.
The Bill – which is to be put before the House of Lords today (Friday, 13th March) – would mean partners would be able to apply for a lump sum, periodical payments or transfer of property to help support themselves following the separation.
Martin said: "In today's society it is becoming more common for couples to simply live together rather than marry and this Bill is a welcome attempt at making legal provisions for them.
"The idea of a 'common law' husband or wife is actually an urban myth but this could go some way to making it a real concept which is of tangible benefit to people.
"At present we have situations where unmarried couples who have had a relationship over many years separate and left in a vulnerable position financially because they have previously been dependent on their partner. This becomes particularly serious when children are involved.
"The Cohabitation Bill allows for some extra security over money – applications could be made for a financial settlement order which would force one ex-partner to provide support for the other. When you consider that a quarter of children are born out of wedlock this would be an important step in guaranteeing their welfare."
The Bill would apply to unmarried couples who have a child together or have lived together for at least two years, including same-sex couples who have not entered into a civil partnership. It is being supported by Resolution, the national association of family lawyers of which Martin is a member.
Martin added: "I don't think you can accuse this Bill of undermining the concept of marriage and civil partnerships given its flexibility.
"For example, while one ex-partner could be compelled to offer financial help there is no suggestion that assets would have to be split equally and factors such as length of relationship would also be taken into account. Meanwhile, other benefits associated with marriage, such as with tax and pensions, would be unaffected.
"My one concern about the plans is that action would have to be taken to make couples aware that, should the Bill be enacted, they would need to opt-out of the system.
"People may generally not find out about changes to cohabitation law as a matter of course and it may make more sense to organise an opt-in process where couples can decide to take part after listening to expert advice."