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Wiltshire lawyer calls for more rights for unmarried couples

30 November 2023
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Ross Phillips

A lawyer from Wiltshire law firm Goughs has joined the calls for more legal rights for cohabiting couples.

Ross Phillips is backing the Vision for Family Justice published by Resolution - a community of family justice professionals who work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive way - as the organisation marks its 40th anniversary.

Currently, cohabiting couples have few or no rights in the event of a relationship breakdown meaning that unlike married couples there is no mechanism for splitting assets.

Partner at Southampton’s Trethowans made national chair at Resolution

This is despite a huge growth in the number of couples and families that cohabit rather than marry.

A nationwide poll carried out by Whitestone Insight on behalf of Resolution found around half of cohabitees are unaware that they lack rights should they split up.

Other findings include:

  • 59 per cent of people polled back better legal protections for cohabiting people.
  • 74 per cent of cohabitees agree that ‘the current laws surrounding cohabitation are unfit for today’s modern society’
  • 75 per cent of Resolution members surveyed said they support a change in the law to provide basic rights to cohabiting couples

Asked about their concerns in the event of a relationship ending, 35 per cent said they feared having nowhere to live – if a property is in one partner’s name the other partner has no automatic claim on it in the event of a breakup.

One in three said they feared significant financial hardship.

According to House of Commons Library research 1.5 million couples cohabited in 1996 but that figure increased by 144 per cent over the following 25 years to 3.6 million in 2021.

According to the recent Resolution polling 83 per cent of respondents believe that cohabiting will become even more popular in future.

Ross Phillips, partner and family solicitor at Goughs said, “Today’s research demonstrates the urgent need for greater legal protection.

"Many cohabitees believe they are protected by ‘common-law marriage’ – but this is a myth and, sadly, they only discover this once it is too late.

“That’s why I’m joining Resolution’s call for a change in the law to ensure cohabiting couples in Wiltshire and elsewhere are not left in dire financial straits should their relationship come to an end.”

The call comes as Resolution launches its Vision for Family Justice in Parliament this week, highlighting a number of areas where reform is needed in order to better help families who are facing separation or divorce.

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Grant Cameron, national chair of Resolution, said: “It’s great to have so much support across the country for our call for change from people like Ross.

"For 40 years, Resolution has been campaigning for reforms which help couples who separate to do so more amicably and constructively – which is why cohabitation reform is front and centre of our Vision for Family Justice.

“The shape of families across England and Wales is changing – and our laws need to keep up.”


Peter Davison is deputy editor of The Business Magazine. He has spent his life in journalism – doing work experience in newsrooms in and around Bristol while still at school, and landing his first job on a local newspaper aged 19. By 28 he was the youngest newspaper editor in the country.

An early advocate of online news, he spent the first years of the 2000s telling his bosses that the internet posed both the biggest opportunity and greatest threat to the newspaper industry and the art of journalism. He was right on both counts.

Since 2006 he has enjoyed a career as a freelance journalist. He lives in rural Wiltshire with one wife, two children, and three cats.

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