Addressing the Legal Status of Cohabitation in Britain and France: Plus ça change...?
University of Wales, Aberystwyth (Anne Barlow now at University of Exeter)
Web Journal of Current Legal Issues
University of Newcastle upon Tyne
The incidence of cohabitation and births outside marriage in France is similar to that in England and Wales. Although they have traditionally adopted very different approaches to family law, their response to the phenomenon of cohabitation has traditionally been surprisingly similar. In both, the law has developed piecemeal, leaving cohabitants with inadequate legal remedies, and the article first compares the current law in the two jurisdictions. However, the French government has now demonstrated its willingness to confront the legal needs of cohabitants. Proposed French legislation both acknowledges a legal status of cohabitation - whether heterosexual or homosexual and in addition will permit all unmarried cohabitants to enter into a civil union contract known as a PACS. This will approximate their position more closely to that of married couples for all purposes, including social security benefits, inheritance, maintenance and property division on relationship breakdown. In contrast, the British Government's Consultation Document Supporting Families (1998) virtually ignores the needs of cohabitants focusing instead on strengthening marriage. The article goes on, therefore, to analyse and contrast the impact of this new divergence in approach between the two jurisdictions, and assesses its significance in the light of reforms being implemented elsewhere in Europe.
 3 Web JCLI