Sir James Munby, president of the High Court Family Division and the most senior family judge in England and Wales wants the law to be changed so that cohabiting couples have similar legal protections to married couples. It's a reform that is long overdue, but it is unlikely to be implemented any time soon, so in the mean time, here's 10 things you need to know before you have a child when you are cohabiting.
1. The number of cohabiting couples has doubled since 1996. In contrast, marriage rates have declined by a third in the past 30 years (ONS).
2. Cohabiting couples split up much more frequently than married couples. After just five years, 49% of cohabiting couples have split, compared to 20% of married couples. After 10 years, 62% of cohabiting relationships are over (CDC 2002).
3. The breakdown rate for couples who live together, but aren't married, is important because more cohabiting couples (39%) than married couples (38%) have dependent children
4. Research by the Co-op group suggests that around one in four people who are cohabiting think that if they split up, they will have the same legal protection as if they were married. They don't. There is no status in English law for 'common-law' spouse, or partner.
5. Whether they split after two years, or 20 years, an unmarried partner who has sacrificed their career and compromised their earning potential by staying at home to care for children cannot make any personal claims for property, maintenance or pension sharing.
6. The only financial support the partner with day-to-day care of the children is entitled to is child maintenance through the Child Support Agency.
If, after a split, a child divides it's time equally between both parents, no child support is paid.
7. On separation, each partner can keep whatever assets are legally registered in their own name, but if, for example, the family home is not in joint names, then the partner with the name on the deeds and who has paid the mortgage gets to keep the house
8. If the non-resident parent earns more than £104,000 net, the court can order top-up maintenance payments for the children. The court can also order that the non-resident parent provides a property, usually on trust, in which the children may live, but this reverts back to the owner when the children finish school or university.
9. Drawing up a cohabitation agreement or a declaration of trust as to who has contributed what, and what will happen should the the relationship break down, is currently the only way to protect yourself. Advicenow has produced an action guide, 'How to make a living together agreement', which includes a template of an agreement.
10. However the relationship charity 'One Plus One' says that "although courts are showing more willingness to take account of such agreements, there is still no certainty that they would enforce one."