12 March, 2008
Reforms to the law that would have given cohabiting partners similar rights to married couples will not be going ahead just yet according to a Government announcement.
"The number of people in a relationship who are living together but are neither married nor civil partners continues to rise". Says family law specialist David Parkinson of local law firm Forbes Solicitors, which has offices in Blackburn, Accrington, Preston and Chorley "Many of these people are probably completely unaware that they have few rights in the event of a break-up of their relationship and that any rights as they do have centre around any children of the relationship.
"The problem stems from the fact that, contrary to popular belief, in law there is no such thing as a 'common law spouse', couples who live together do not acquire legal rights and there are no set rules for how their assets should be divided if they split up. With over 2.5 million people currently living together informally, the courts are seeing a flood of disputes about who owns what when such relationships end."
One common problem is where partners have lived together for a long time but the property is held in only one of their names. If the couple then split up, this may give rise to a claim that the property should belong to both of them. The issues involved are often complex and such disputes can be very expensive to resolve in court. In some cases, people who have made a very substantial contribution to the financing and improvement of a shared home have been left with little or nothing for their efforts.
The review of the law in this area was intended to create more certainty in such cases, but the Government has chosen instead to wait to see what the effects are of planned reforms to the law in Scotland before any changes are made to the law in England and Wales.
"Meanwhile, the position of cohabitees is best protected by having a formal written agreement, which should be made with the benefit of independent legal advice on both sides," says David "This is particularly important where the assets involved are substantial, so that in the event that the relationship flounders, a drawn out and acrimonious dispute can be avoided.