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Further responses to the Jones v Kernott judgment

Law Society and Resolution call for legislation on the rights of unmarried couples

The Law Society President John Wotton has welcomed the ruling, saying:

"This judgment moves the law forward because it allows courts to reach a view about what the parties intended, and what a fair outcome should look like. However, the meaning of 'fairness' in cohabitation law is not the same as fairness in marriage. Today's verdict only goes so far in providing cohabiting couples with clarity about what will happen to shared property on a relationship breakdown. The fact is that successive governments have failed to legislate on the rights of unmarried couples living together, despite the Law Commission's proposals for reform, which we have supported.

"Many cases could still end with what most people would consider an unfair outcome. The confused state of the law continues to cause stress, litigation and costs – and hence ultimately is damaging for families and children.

"It is crucial that couples who are thinking of buying a property and living together take legal advice from a solicitor to reduce the likelihood of potential problems later. Solicitors are highly experienced in dealing with house purchases and helping people properly set up their financial arrangements. A solicitor will help to avoid unforeseen problems, about legal rights in a relationship generally, and can discuss how rights might change as a relationship develops, such as children or marriage."

Resolution said that the Supreme Court decision highlights the urgent need to reform the law affecting couples who live together. Although one in six couples in the UK currently live together without being married, huge numbers of people face distress, injustice and hardship because of out-of-date laws surrounding cohabitation combined with the "common law" marriage myth. Those affected include children who were not party to their parent's decision not to marry.

David Allison, Chair of Resolution, said:

"Whilst we welcome today's judgment, the fact that it has taken four different hearings in four different places to determine the outcome highlights that the law for cohabitants is a mess and is in urgent need of reform.

"Despite the "common law" marriage myth, it is possible to live together with someone for decades and even to have children together, and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner's welfare. That is simply wrong.

"The current situation for people who live together often creates injustice and hardship, and the law fails to reflect the way people are choosing to live their lives."

Resolution is calling for new laws for couples who have lived together for five years or more – or for less time in cases of exceptional hardship. For cohabiting couples with children, the law would offer protection regardless of how long they have lived together.

The association says that these couples would have an automatic right to apply for certain financial orders if they separate. If a couple wished to opt out of this provision, they could do so by way of a written agreement. Such a law would prevent injustice by allowing the courts to recognise a cohabiting relationship and decide on an outcome that is fair and reasonable.