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Power to the Unmarried Couple!

No, not yet.

But it does help when our most senior Family Judge, President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall himself, announces his support for cohabitees having rights to share property and money on separation.

A sixth of couples in Britain live together unmarried, predicted to rise to one in four in 20 years’ time. Half of those couples still subscribe to the myth of the common law wife, mistakenly believing that they have the protection of the married spouse if the relationship breaks down.

This is far from the truth, as the stark fact is that, since the Civil Partnership Act 2004, cohabiting couples have less rights than gay couples who now have inheritance rights, tax benefits and next-of-kin recognition, similar to married couples.

Unless an unmarried couple ensures that the house they own is in joint names, or held as tenants in common in shares they agree each will have on sale, the person who is not on the property title can have a real struggle establishing any claim to its value.

There will definitely be no claim for maintenance support on a break-up and no sharing of any other assets that do not personally belong to the unmarried claimant.

So what is the learned Judge proposing and is anyone who matters, listening?

Sir Nicholas said earlier this month, “Women cohabitees in particular are severely disadvantaged by being unable to claim maintenance and having their property rights determined by the conventional law of trusts”. The Judge is disappointed that the Labour government had not pledged to implement the reforms that were recommended by the 2007 Law Commission which called for new legal rights for people living together in a long-term relationship.

Will the Coalition behave any differently? It is likely that for the time being the traditionalists will have the loudest voice, as their fears that the institution of marriage would be weakened, strikes a chord with many voters.

So until legal sense can overcome political nerves, the best way for couples living together to avoid the financial pitfalls of a break-up, is to draw up a Cohabitation Agreement. Not exactly hearts and flowers, but it will avoid a lot of sour grapes if the future doesn’t turn out as you planned. It is a sensible piece of housekeeping recommended to all unmarried couples, especially those with children.

Monday, February 21st, 2011 Uncategorised

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