More and more people are living together rather than marrying. The problem is that there is no publicly announced commitment. Although there are many wonderful and lifelong cohabitant relationships, statistically they are likely to last only half as long as marriages.At one end of the spectrum is perhaps the couple at uni who shack up for a couple of years. At the other is a relationship where a couple have been wounded by previous marriages, who each has their own children, who fall in love but are fearful of marriage but who are firmly and deeply committed to being lifelong partners.

Imposed on this wide spectrum is a ridiculously archaic legal structure. The law in this area is incredibly complex and unfair. It is a curious mixture of land law, trust law and the more obscure area of law of all, the law of equity. Often cases involving hundreds of thousands of pounds will revolve what was discussed twenty or thirty years ago.

Often cases cannot be sorted out legally until a judge has pronounced on who said what to whom when and that is many £000’s later.

You must see a solicitor to assess your legal position. However, against that backcloth it is our deeply held belief that the couple should reach a settlement which they each perceive to be fair, or perhaps each perceive to be equally unfair.

Legal proceedings should be avoided if at all possible.

We are just about the last country in the Western world not to have a law relating to cohabitants. It is shameful. But morally cowardly Governments and the Daily Mail have created the situation.

John Arnott was on the National Committee for the reform of this area of the law. It was depressing, with Governments of differing political persuasions continually kicking this issue into the long grass. This happened again last year.

So do take legal advice. But make sure that the solicitor is knowledgeable and non adversarial. Otherwise cases can cost in the £10’s of thousands, take years, and cause incredible bitterness. These cases require early and skilled advice but really must be settled if at all possible.

Fully contested proceedings to final hearing could easily cost £25,000 or more per side. And because the law is so uncertain and capricious there is likely to be a big winner and a big loser. But each will be expected to pay legal fees in advance.

This is definitely not an area for an ordinary person to hope to deal with on his/her own.