Couples who have been living together for an unspecified period of time should be granted the same privileges that married couples enjoy, a study has proposed. The Central Policy Unit commissioned the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong to conduct studies on how to strengthen family relations. One report suggested that couples who have been sharing their lives for a certain amount of time, but have not tied the knot, should be regarded as married. The report suggested that those couples should have the right to inherit assets, and claim alimony and custody of children. The report said this could help prevent arguments when unmarried couples split up. University of Hong Kong's Family Institute director Lee Wai-yung, who conducted the study, said overseas research showed the legal system did not favour unmarried fathers in custody cases. Amendments to the law could protect the rights of unmarried couples, Dr Lee said, insisting that doing so would not necessarily lead to a drastic decrease in marriage rates. The Immigration Department's 2003 figures showed the marriage rate had dropped 15 per cent from 37,593 marriage registrations in 1997 to 32,070 in 2002. Alex Lau Kun-luen, assistant professor of law at Hong Kong Baptist University, said Hong Kong was not as progressive as the mainland. 'On the mainland, there is this term 'fact marriage', meaning that after you and your partner have been living together for a certain amount of time, you both would be recognised as a married couple. 'Since more and more people choose to live together instead of getting married, the report's suggestion was only reflecting the reality,' he said. But Choi Chi-sum, of the Society for Truth and Light, said the concept of couples enjoying the privileges of marriage without the commitment was contradictory.