Legal Assumptions, Cohabitants’ Talk and the Rocky Road to Reform

23 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2011

See all articles by Anne Barlow

Anne Barlow

University of Exeter - School of Law

Janet Smithson

University of Exeter

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: October 6, 2011


This article assesses recent proposals for the reform of cohabitation law by drawing on two interdisciplinary empirical studies. The first, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice included a survey (n=102) of people who had accessed the ‘Living Together Campaign’ website, investigating legal awareness, attitudes to cohabitation law and financial practices. The second, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, included a nationally representative survey (n=3197) investigating attitudes towards marriage, cohabitation and their legal and financial consequences. Each survey was followed up with semi-structured interviews which explored financial practices, processes of decision-making, understandings of commitment, awareness of and attitudes to current cohabitation law and possible law reform.

In the analysis, we considered cohabitants’ practices alongside attitudes to their legal position and the links between finances, commitment and different ‘types’ of cohabitation were considered alongside demographic differences in order to explore the legal needs of diverse groups of cohabitants. We concluded that cohabitants in both projects fitted a typology comprising: Ideologues, Romantics, Pragmatists and Uneven couples and we considered the current proposals for legal reform in the light of this typology.

Keywords: cohabitation, law reform, marriage, legal and financial consequences, typology

Suggested Citation

Barlow, Anne Elizabeth and Smithson, Janet, Legal Assumptions, Cohabitants’ Talk and the Rocky Road to Reform (October 6, 2011). Child and Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 328-350, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Anne Elizabeth Barlow (Contact Author)

University of Exeter - School of Law ( email )

Streatham Court
University of Exeter
Exeter, EX4 4QJ
United Kingdom

Janet Smithson

University of Exeter ( email )

Northcote House
The Queen's Drive
Exeter, Devon EX4 4QJ
United Kingdom

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