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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 March 2008, 15:20 GMT
Cohabitation law delay 'shoddy'
By Paul Lewis
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

Bridget Prentice, Justice Minister
There are no plans to implement Law Commission recommendations
A government delay on new rights for cohabiting couples has been slammed by family lawyers.

The changes would have given unmarried couples in England and Wales some of the rights of married partners.

But Justice Minister Bridget Prentice told Parliament she would take no action until research on the cost could be studied.

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, says the decision means continued distress and hardship.

'Furious' reaction

The association's Jane Craig, a practising family lawyer, told Radio 4's Money Box programme:

"I was furious frankly: there are huge amounts of injustice as things stand.

"What has happened now is shoddy - the government has put it to one side because it is difficult."

It is extraordinary that clear moral rights have no standing within our legal system
Anonymous, Altrincham

The government was responding to proposals from the Law Commission to give some cohabiting couples the right to redress if one partner had gained an economic advantage during their time together.

Similar rights are already in force in Scotland.

But Jane Craig warned that many people in England and Wales do not realise that unmarried couples have no rights.

"The most recent survey published in January says 51% of the population thinks there is such a thing as a common law marriage.

"What happens is, people start living together, fall in love, think there is no need to be married it is just a piece of paper, they have children.

"But if the man wants to leave, the woman can be left high and dry with no financial claim against him at all."

Current rules

The existing law... often gives rise to results that are unjust
Stuart Bridge, the Law Commissioner who drew up the report
Under the present rules neither partner has a financial claim on the other, leaving all the advantages with the economically stronger partner - whether that is a man or a woman.

Even if domestic costs have been shared, the partner with legal ownership of the home and the longer work and pension record has no obligation to share those benefits with the other.

Jane Craig told the programme that people who suggested couples could avoid this problem by getting married or forming a civil partnership were being "simplistic".

"What happens if you fall in love with someone, get pregnant and then he doesn't want to get married?

"You don't want to leave because you have a child together.

"So you stay in the relationship."

Final response

Stuart Bridge, the Law Commissioner who drew up the report told Money Box:

"The existing law is uncertain and expensive to apply and, because it was not designed for cohabitants, often gives rise to results that are unjust."

He welcomed the government's view that the report was "very thorough and of very high quality" and looked forward to receiving the government's final response.

In a statement to Money Box the Ministry of Justice said:

"The government wishes to consider the Scottish experience with regard to the likely cost and benefit to this jurisdiction of bringing into effect the scheme proposed by the Law Commission."

The government has given no indication of when any change might take place.

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 8 March 2008 at 1204 GMT.



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Paul Lewis talks to Jane Craig about the govenment announcement.



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SEE ALSO
External links and helplines
07 Mar 08 |  Moneybox
Have Your Say: cohabitation rights
08 Mar 08 |  Moneybox
Cohabitation in Scotland
03 May 07 |  Moneybox


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