New rights for unmarried couples to be introduced soon?

At the moment unmarried couples are offered little protection in family law and often have to resort to the principles of property and trust law instead to attempt to achieve a fair outcome.  The biggest asset that will be owned by a couple is usually their home.  However, when property law principles are applied to the division of this asset it often leads to unfair and unsatisfactory results.

Furthermore, cohabiting couples have no ability to pursue financial claims against one another for maintenance (other than for children) or for shares of pensions, savings and investments.  Unfortunately, many women still believe the myth that surrounds the term ‘common law wife’ and hold the view that if you cohabit with someone for a set period of time you will gain the same rights as a woman who was married.  This is simply not the case.  The breakdown can become even more complicated when the cohabitating couple have children together.

Although this may be set to change, as today Sir Nicholas Wall the President of the Family Division has recently stated that he is in favour of cohabitees having greater rights because of the injustice of the present situation.

There is concern that any reform in the current law may undermine the sanctity of marriage.  This is believed to be the reason for the lack of reform in this area despite previous Governments pledging to do so.  However with increasing numbers of unmarried couples living together there will no doubt be ever increasing calls for changes to be made.

Paul Lancaster
Family Law Department  

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