Tory backs equal rights for cohabiting couples

Plans to give cohabiting couples the same legal rights as married couples have received the support of Henry Bellingham MP, the Shadow Justice Minister.

The new rules, proposed by the Law Commission, would mean that partners who have lived together for five years would have the same legal rights as a husband or wife.

Those who have lived together for between two and five years would be entitled to half of the settlement that a spouse would receive in the event of a split.

Mr Bellingham claimed that the rules would provide greater stability for children and claimed that the new rules “may actually encourage marriage”.

Last week Baroness Deech attacked the changes labelling them a “windfall for lawyers but for no one else except the gold digger”.

Speaking in her capacity as professor of Law at Gresham College Baroness Deech said that in America there had been “a retreat from legal recognition of cohabitation as the values of marriage have become recognised once more”.

The Baroness also warned that the proposed rules could increase the number of single parent families by “encouraging men to walk out before the threshold qualifying period to avoid financial liability.”

Last year a major study revealed that one in four children of cohabiting parents suffer family breakdown before they start school at the age of five.

This is compared to just 1 in 10 children of married parents.

These findings were from the Millennium Cohort Study which has monitored 15,000 children since birth. It is one of the largest surveys on family life to date.

Current marriage rates are the lowest since records began, according to official figures.

In Britain around 14 per cent of couples, some two million, now cohabit.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that there are over 21 million married people.

Labour is expected to bring in the new rules if it wins a fourth term in office.

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