Proposed Research Title
Cohabitation, a non-traditional form of family, has been gaining traction lately. However,
despite the rise in the number of cohabiting couples, legal principles governing
cohabitation have failed to keep pace with the recent trends in family law, creating the
need for inevitable change in the often confusing area. How can the current law be
either changed or repealed to ensure that the law is in keeping with the recent
Cohabitation, a relationship between individuals whereby they live together and usually
procure children without resorting to marriage, used to be stigmatised and attracted a
lot of opprobrium upon itself during the past1
However, today, not only is there no stigma attached to cohabitation, but it is also one of the fastest growing types of
relationships in UK. Data from the Office of National Statistics suggest that the number
of cohabiting couples was the fastest growing family category, increasing from 1.5
cohabiting couples in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2016.2
Despite cohabiting gaining traction
among couples, the laws and legal principles regulating cohabitation have been
ossified, and rendered immaterial in today’s world. It is argued that cohabitation is on
the rise due to the fact that cohabiting couples enjoy the absence of the formal
framework. This aspect of cohabitation enables the couples to get rid of the
unnecessary formalities, allowing them to form a family without the complications.
However, as can be evidenced by this research, that viewpoint not only fallacious, but
detrimental. The lack of rights enjoyed by cohabiting couples, as will be discussed,
places certain and present obstacles, placing marriage and cohabiting couples on
1 Baron E Bernstein, ‘Legal Problems Of Cohabition’ (1977) 26 National Council on Family Relations
<http://www.jstor.org/stable/581757> accessed 31 October 2017.
2 Families And Households In The UK: 2016′ (Office for National Statistics, 2016)
iliesandhouseholds/2016> accessed 31 October 2017.
different footings. The main disadvantage is the absence of a duty of support and
reciprocity, which has been well established in various cases. While considering the law
pertaining to cohabitation, English courts were initially averse to confer certain rights
upon cohabitants. Although the scenario has undergone dramatic changes regarding
the family law, there are, as will be evidenced in this research, areas which need to be
developed further for example cohabiting partner’s right to their partner’s pension. The
fact that current laws have atrophied in the face changing family dynamics has been
explored by many others and legal experts alike. Diduck and Kaganas in their seminal
book explore how societal shifts still favor marriage as the most privileged one, owing to
how law has been conducive to that current trend3
Has law been more receptive to the idea of cohabitations, they argue that it would have been well received by others. The
ineffectiveness of the current legislations and laws regarding the rights of cohabiting
couples have been further stressed by Lord Justice Wall, who called for the same rights
to cohabiting couples, citing well-justified of women cohabitees being severely
disadvantaged in cases of separation4
This current dissertation undertakes to explore
these areas and argue why it is critical to afford greater legal representation to
cohabiting couples in the UK.
● The dissertation aims to identify whether the shortcomings are present in areas
of the current legal principles in relation to cohabiting couples.
● The dissertation also undertakes to highlight these areas of the current legislation
such as maintenance, property rights, divorce issues, and parental rights, and
assess whether the dearth of rights afford to cohabiting couples place them at a
substantial disadvantage in comparison to married couples.
3Alison Diduck and Felicity Kaganas, Family Law, Gender And The State (3rd edn, Hart 2012).
4 Fraces Gibb, ‘Cohabiting Couples Should Get More Rights, Says Judge’ (The Times, 2017)
cxpl5vc3x85> accessed 31 October 2017
● The dissertation undertakes to highlight the differences. By highlighting the
differences, the research undertakes to zoom in on the issues that are likely to be
engender inequity in cases of divorce and death in cohabitation
● Having emphasized the differences between the legal rights and protections
afforded to spouses and to those in cohabitation, the research will investigate
whether or not the current legal framework governing cohabitation affords
adequate rights to cohabiting couples
● The research envisions whether expanding the rights to cohabiting couples is
justified or not
● The research endeavors to substantiate the findings with legal data and
exhaustive research, and explore whether the rights afforded to married couples
should also be extended to cohabiting couples
● The research will also aim to set out the framework of rights and changes in
legislations to foster fairness in cohabitation, and ensure that they are up to date
● The research will conclude with investigating whether the implications of
expanding the legal rights afforded to cohabiting couples will have any
implications on married couples
● The research undertakes to answer the following research questions:
● Are there any shortcomings present in the current laws and regulations
governing cohabitation and separation in cohabitation?
● How different are the rights afforded to married couples and cohabiting couples?
● If so, does the current law engender unfairness, placing cohabiting couples on a
different footing with married couples?
● Provided that shortcomings are present, what are the areas where cohabiting
couples face the most hurdles?
● How the shortcoming can be resolved in way that fosters fairness and equity?
● Is expanding more rights to cohabiting couples alone solve the problem, and
ensure the legal principles are up to date?
● To what extent does expanding the rights impact the rights afforded to married
This research will be conducted in a secondary research nature (also referred to as
desk-based). Secondary research is a type of research that is widely in use in legal
research, health research and etc.5 Conducting a secondary research entails collating
primary sources and data, followed by synthesizing and analyzing them. The researcher
will do exhaustive primary reading into family law and cohabitation laws to identify
patterns and areas of shortcomings in relations to cohabitation. Having identified the
shortcomings, the research aims to substantiate the presence of shortcomings in
cohabitation law with reference to case law and statutory law. The research also utilized
the so-called black-letter approach, which has become prevalent in legal research6
Black-letter approach intends to clarify ambiguous legal doctrines and present them in a
. Employing both black-letter approach couples with secondary research is
conducive to the researchers eliciting data and evidence necessary for this particular
5 Peter Cane and Herbert Kritzer, The Oxford Handbook of Empirical Legal Research (OUP, 2010)
6 Robert Watt and Francis Johns, Concise Legal Research (6th edn, The Federation Press, 2009)
7 Michael Star and Julie Mason, ‘Writing Law Dissertations: An Introduction and Guide to the Conduct of
Legal Research’ (1st edn, Longman, 2007)
Intended outline of the research
The chapter commences with a background discourse into the current laws regulating
cohabitation, and whether or not they afford adequate rights to cohabiting couples. The
introduction will also encompass the outline of the research, its objectives, the
methodology utilized, and a conclusion. This chapter will conclude with the conclusion
and a summary of results.
This chapter will analyze the advantages and disadvantages of the methodology utilized
for the research. This chapter intends to shed light on the obstacles presented by the
methodology used for the research
This chapter aims to provide information about the current legal principles affording
legal rights to cohabiting couples, and how different they are from the rights that are
afforded to married couples by the virtues of Children Act 20048
, Matrimonial Causes
Act 19739 and other Acts10. Following the juxtaposition, the chapter zeroes on in the
shortcomings present in the current laws, and whether they put cohabiting couples at
substantial disadvantage. If yes, to what extent?
8 Children Act 2004
9 Matrimonial Causes Act 1973
10 The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
Chapter 3 presents desk research, and attempts to analyze the different views posited
by primary legal research and precedents (cases). The chapter will also highlight the
conflicting views regarding expansion of rights to cohabiting couples, and how justifiable
Analysis and conclusion
The conclusion chapter intend to analyze the implications of the data. Relying on the
work undertaken in previous chapters, this part concludes with suggestions for future
changes in the cohabitation laws, and to make put the arguments in a logical manner.
The chapter will conclude with the final conclusions of the expansion of rights to
cohabiting couples, and how justified such process will be.