Legal rights for people who ‘Live Apart Together’?

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About 10% of adults in Britain have a living apart together (LAT) relationship; they are nearly always administratively and legally defined as single but in fact they have a partner who lives elsewhere. The question then arises, should LAT couples have access to legal rights and protection in the same way as proposed (in Britain) or achieved (in other jurisdictions) for unmarried cohabitants? Using both a national survey and in-depth interviews, we find that a significant proportion of LAT partners extend substantial levels of care and support both to each other and, if relevant, to their partners' dependent children. For other LAT partners levels of support are lower, or even absent. Similarly, about a third of our interviewees thought LAT relationships should have given legal rights, a third thought these should depend on circumstances, while the final third were opposed to any extension of legal rights or thought this unnecessary. A number of overarching themes surrounded this issue in interviewees' narratives - the presence of children, the existence of commitment, the longevity of the relationship, the logistics of organising a legal system, and the possibility that some might take advantage. We suggest that ‘opt-in’ legal provisions could provide a model for any extension of legal rights to LAT relationships in the UK.

Keywords: Britain; LAT; Living apart together; care; family law; partners

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Bradford, 2: Canterbury Christchurch University, 3: National Centre for Social Research, 4: Birkbeck College, University of London,

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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