The President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, has called for there to be a reform of financial division of assets upon the breakdown of an unmarried relationship.
In a recent interview with The Times, he said
“I am in favour of cohabitees having rights because of the injustice of the present situation. Women cohabitees in particular, are severely disadvantaged by being unable to claim maintenance and having their property rights determined by conventional laws of trusts.”
The mish mash of law that applies when an unmarried cohabiting couple separate is a really difficult area to provide clear advice to clients on and without a clear framework or structure of a similar nature to matrimonial case there is inconsistency and confusion.
The previous Government did consider a reform of financial division of cohabitation laws but decided not to proceed with the legislation.
It is an area that is crying out for a clear set of legislation. Despite the fact that the common law marriage has not been existed since 1753, more than half the public think that couples who live together have rights. Couples who live together, in reality, have little or no legal protection regardless of their level commitment to each other, the length of their relationship or whether they have children. The current law treats the couple as two separate individuals. It takes no account of their relationship and there is no aim to achieve fairness. As a result many cohabitants, often women and their children, fall in poverty upon relationship breakdown.
Despite this however, cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK with a smaller percentage of people getting married in 2008 than an in any year since records began. People of course do make a conscious decision not to marry but very often people drift into cohabitation without thinking about what may happen if that relationship breaks down and the potentially vulnerable position that they may find themselves in.
There is strong support for reform and it is to be hoped that Sir Nicholas Wall’s comments will once again bring this issue to the forefront of this Government’s attention. In the meantime, if you or anyone you know has any concerns as to their legal position in this situation, do not hesitate to contact me or one of our Family Team.
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