The UK’s top family judge has said that changes need to be made to Britain’s laws to adequately protect couples who co-habit for significant periods.
President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, described how, under the current system, women in particular could be disadvantaged with no rights to property due to the co-habitation and no maintenance entitlement. Sir Nicholas is advocating changes to the law which would provide courts with the powers to award property rights or maintenance payments. However, Sir Nicholas warned that it would be dangerous for the changes to become standard, with many different factors needing to be taken into consideration, such as the length of time spent living together.
Sir Nicholas said during an interview with the Times, “I am in favour of cohabitees having rights because of the injustice of the present situation. Women cohabitees in particular are severely disadvantage by being unable to claim maintenance and by having their property rights determined by the conventional laws of trust.” Sir Nicholas went on to insist that each case would have to considered on its own merit, adding, “If co-habitation has been short and the contribution minimal, judges would not be sympathetic to a claim.”
Sir Nicholas is not the only legal big-wig to support a change to the legislation, with the Law Commission recommending rights for cohabitees in long term relationships as far back as 2007. Sir Nicholas expressed his ‘disappointment’ that the government had not sought to implement any changes in the last four years.
Any amendment to the law is bound to attract hot debate with opponents wary of introducing any changes which would provide the same protection as marriage, as many believe this would undermine the institution. Any new law would therefore stop short of bestowing the same automatic rights as married couples, but allow courts to consider genuine claims.
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