Many of these cohabitees own joint property and bank accounts and the vast majority have children.
Unfortunately, the odds a cohabiting relationship will break down are as high as they are for marriages or civil partnerships, yet the law does not provide the same protection.
As part of Cohabitation Awareness Week, my family law colleagues and I want to highlight the lack of clarity for unmarried couples when they separate and campaign to change the current laws, which only offer limited (and expensive) assistance in addressing the issues that arise.
In the absence of any legal framework, mediation offers a viable alternative for cohabiting couples looking to end a relationship equitably.
Mediation is a forum in which you can discuss how your joint finances will be dealt with to provide for your needs and those of your family. You can also determine how best to co-parent your children post-separation.
Tensions and emotions are heightened during a break up and couples often benefit from talking things through with an independent mediator. You can explore options in a calm environment that encourages both parties to put aside past animosities and focus on a future living apart. This enables you to make considered decisions about how you will organise your lives and those of your children to benefit the whole family.
More often than not, a solution reached via mediation proves more effective than one imposed by a court. The parties are better invested in the outcome because they have played a part in determining the way forward. It also preserves whatever vestiges of a relationship you may have with your ex-partner, which is vital for your ongoing success as co-parents.
As a consequence, mediation invariably has a much lower impact on the financial and emotional costs of separation than legal action and can usually be concluded in a shorter timescale.
Whether you are cohabiting or married, do not rule out mediation as a way of easing the separation process and planning your future. To find out more about the rights of unmarried couples, contact our family law department on (0114) 218 4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.