Should cohabiting couples have more legal rights if they break up?
The government has announced that it has no current plans to implement Law Commission recommendations to give cohabiting couples in England and Wales similar financial rights to married couples and civil partners.
After extensive consultation the Law Commission published its proposals for reform in July 2007.
But in a written statement on Thursday, Justice Minister Bridget Prentice announced that the government would evaluate the introduction of similar legislation in Scotland before going further.
Do you think more needs to be done to protect cohabitees?
If you have you been through a break-up after cohabiting - what were the financial consequences for you?
Perhaps you live in Scotland, where the rules have already changed. Do you feel it has made any difference?
We asked for your comments, a selection of which are below.
The debate is now closed.
I am relieved, at least short term, the government has seen a bit of sense, and thought about this and the risks of abuse by gold diggers and the like. Women already bleed men dry on divorce, why should they do the same just by living with a man for a set amount of time? If you want rights, get married. Leave us to live in sin. If this law comes in, watch the mass break-ups of cohabiting couples, adding to the housing crisis.
Excuse me Peter, Liverpool! It is not only men that hand over the cash when things go belly up. I've got much more money than my fiancée but I trust him and want to marry him - but not all men are like that and they can grasp money left right and centre when a marriage breaks down.
Sarah M, Birmingham
From what I've read about what is proposed, it is not correct that the financially better-off person in a relationship will risk losing a huge chunk of their assets as soon as they start co-habiting with someone. [The Law Commission proposed that] the start point would be after two years, and even then asset-sharing is on a sliding scale, with the costs really kicking in if there are children. Nevertheless, the proposals seem a massive over-reaction to the fact that 50% of people apparently believe there is such a thing as common-law marriage, and that some non/low-earning women can be left impoverished when a long non-married relationship comes to an end. I agree with the vast majority of people on this website that if a low-earning woman (or man) fears losing out financially, s/he should insist on the legal security offered by marriage, or simply end the relationship. If a woman is left homeless after 20 years of non-marriage, I'm afraid I am inclined to say tough: everyone has a responsibility to look after their own financial affairs, whatever the nature of their relationship, and what did she think she was doing all those years? All relationships end, even if by death, and you have to be prepared for all eventualities. The answer to the myth of common-law marriage is simply better information for citizens about how to protect their financial interests, and as for children, they are already catered for, irrespective of marital status, by the Child Support Agency. Two years is far too short a timeframe for childless couples; ten would seem more reasonable, though I still think the proposals are stupid and unnecessary.
This suggestion is a gold diggers' charter. Lazy men and women can now set up home, safe in the knowledge that if anything goes wrong they will leave with a nice, undeserved, payoff, for doing absolutely nothing. For the person earning the money it is a double hit, because throughout the relationship they will have been paying the bills and are now expected to pay a golden handshake. The current law is fine. Get married if you want protection. If your partner does not want to get married do not move in.
It cannot be right that we conduct our most intimate relationships under the threat of legal action when things break down. It is only because most people are reasonable that the system works at all. Foisting the same system on unmarried couples is not the best we can do. But the lawyers want to get their hands on yet more business. So at what stage do I risk losing a good slice of my assets: is a fumble on a sofa enough? Living together for x amount of time? Having children? The better solution is surely to have standardised contracts which make sense, seem fair, cost little and which are entered into early on. But they must have legal force and they must not put people in mortal fear of someone hiring a hotshot lawyer who can tie you up in knots and sting you for enormous sums. At the very least far more emphasis should be placed on arbitration. If both parties agreed to binding arbitration under guidelines which were clear from the outset and not subject to the whims of legislators, we would avoid expensively clogging up our legal system with petty matters.
The government is absolutely correct and should not be wasting public money on this. If you want the same rights as married people, get married. If you or your "partner" do not want to get married, perhaps you should think again about why you are living together in the first place.
Kenneth, East Kilbride
To all these people who have said here "just get married", No. Why should we be forced to take this route? We will not marry as we do not believe in any God/religion or believe that the state has some need or right sanction our relationship. The mental arrogance of those who think unmarried couples "lack commitment" should look at the divorce statistics for "committed married couples".
In response to Pete from Liverpool, what about the parasitic man that takes and takes from a cohabite - paying the mortgage from his own account and letting the cohabitee pay for everything else? That parasitic man had obviously gained prior knowledge regarding discretionary trusts, when he insisted that the mortgage be paid from his own bank account, unbeknown at the time to the cohabitee. A very costly lesson learned for the woman and yet more gain for the man. This was even though there was an initial promise of commitment and equal payments and in later years where the woman paid more in to the joint "household" fund than the man who owned (and gained from) the house. Cohabitees beware.
I think that the legal profession already does very nicely out of divorce in this country. Possibly they view this as another area in which they could also make money. I am not sure if they have a genuine moral concern or just see it as a business opportunity.
Some parts of the U.S. have cohabitation protection laws, and having someone of the opposite sex (and now, I suppose, the same sex) stay for quite a short time can give that person quasi-marital claims on you if they can find a clever lawyer. It seems simpler and more honest to say, if you want marital rights, get married: if you do not get married, the rest of us will assume you do not want the rights.
Peter, Bangor, Gwynedd
I think it would be an awful idea that my partner could claim my assets if we split up. I think of my inheritances from my parents and my late husband as belonging to my son to inherit.
As soon as they change the law, I am moving out.
I am with the other respondents - if you want the rights married couples enjoy - get married. The government should stop eroding the value of marriage and the pandering to those who are shy of making a formal commitment to each other.
Joanne, Broxbourne, Herts
Did it ever occur to these meddling government types that some people choose not to marry for this very reason? If a couple wanted the married status and all it implies they would get married.
The proposal to give similar rights as in marriage to cohabitees has the reverse effect of removing the right of someone to protect and keep their own assets. Not marrying is the only protection that a woman with her own assets has. Get married if you want to, otherwise leave it as it is.
I sympathise with Mrs Burns but I do not see why financial obligations should be forced on a whole section of society who have chosen not to marry. It should be down to individuals to choose the type of relationship they want and to take the consequences - financial or otherwise. Ignorance of the law is not a reason to change the law.
James Smith, London
We married because we wanted to make a commitment. We wanted to lock our union in law and in front of anyone interested enough to listen. There was no way we would have children without this commitment. It is simple, if you cannot commit and would rather risk it, do not be surprised. I'm not.
Peter Hall, Crawley
I get sick and tired of couples bleating and whinging "We want the same rights as a married couples." Simple answer - get married! If all that they are worried about is a bit of paper, so they get their cut of the financial split, all they have to do is go down to their local register office with a couple of friends and go through a simple non-religious ceremony and - hey presto! - you have the same rights as a married couple. You do not have to change your name, you do not even have to let family know - heaven knows why not - but you will be a legal couple. It is so simple and cheaper than some half-baked new government scheme. So the system is there already - why change it? In an old vernacular - use it or lump it.
Stefan, Leatherhead, Surrey
Even though I have given up a lucrative career to look after our three children and support my high flying partner of 23 years, I have no rights at all. It is extraordinary that clear moral rights have no standing within our legal system.
It seems simple to me. If you want a formal arrangement of rights, responsibilities and recourse to law, then get married. If you want to keep things simple or are a commitment-phobe then stay cohabiting. If you are frustrated that your partner is not committed to you as a "cohabitee" do not change the law, change your partner and get married.
The law provides for couples through marriage. If you want protection, get married. How would the commencement of a co-habiting couple's relationship be established? What date would be used - this would be the first argument that the lawyers would have to solve and earn money from. Many men choose not to commit for the very reasons of unequal settlements at divorce that this law would address. They will just find another way around not committing to the relationship.
Sarah, Ashburton, Devon
Young men are increasingly shunning marriage because of laws that give parasitic women upon break up of relationship a right to a man's salary, house and now pension. If a new law is introduced giving cohabitees the same rights as married couples, society will change completely, as no man in his right mind would invite a woman to share his home with the high probability that he would get screwed for his property, salary and pension when the relationship fails.
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