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UK law reform panel proposes limited rights for cohabiting couples

[JURIST] The Law Commission [official website], the independent legal reform body of the United Kingdom, has recommended creating limited legal rights for couples who live together but are unmarried, in a consultation paper [PDF text; overview, PDF] released Wednesday titled "Cohabitation: The Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown." The paper proposes that a limited category of unmarried couples be afforded legal remedies distinct from divorce remedies when the relationship ends. The paper suggests that when a same-sex or opposite-sex couple lives together for more than two years, or if they have a child together, the law should allow for a limited division of wealth when the couple separates. The paper also recommends that cohabitants be allowed to inherit when their cohabitant dies intestate, be afforded certain pension rights, and be allowed to enter into contracts providing for benefits upon separation. Under current UK law, cohabitants may claim maintenance payments for their child when their partner leaves, but not for themselves. Supporters of the proposals say reforms are needed, as the number of unmarried couples living together is expected to double in the next fifteen years. Critics fear the changes would undermine the institution of marriage.

The Law Commission is soliciting suggestions through September and will publish a final report next summer, but it does not plan to publish draft legislation. Last December, the UK opened civil partnership registrations [JURIST report] for same-sex couples under the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 [text]. BBC News has more.

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