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Panorama
Valerie Burns
Valerie Burns
Valerie Burns had to live in her car
The case of Valerie Burns is one of the most famous examples of the lack of rights afforded to unmarried couples.

It also highlights the fact that nothing has been done to address the problems facing co-habitees for more than 20 years.

Back in the 1980s, Valerie's story made headlines across the country.

It all revolved around a relationship she had with a man called Patrick Burns that spanned more than two decades.

The main problem was that Patrick had been married - and his Catholic ex refused to give him a divorce.

Layby life

She moved in with him after seven months because she was pregnant - it wasn't the done thing - and even changed her name to Mrs Burns before the baby was born.

During their 22 years together, Valerie brought up two sons and even looked the other way during his affairs.

When she eventually confronted him - he chose his lifestyle over her and Valerie moved out.

She had nowhere to go - in fact she ended up living in her Hillman Imp car in a layby.

In 1984, Valerie tried to take Patrick to court, but to no avail. She spent a week chasing around the legal system to try and get a share of the assets she thought she was entitled to.

No rights

However, Valerie lost the case and ended up with absolutely nothing.

Distraught, she appealed, and although there was plenty of sympathy, the one thing which was lacking was money.

The law is simple, and still stands today. If an unmarried woman stays at home and looks after the children she gains absolutely no right in the property.

The judge said her case highlighted a problem that Parliament should look at.

That was in 1984.

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 VOTE RESULTS
Would giving unmarried couples equal legal rights undermine marriage?

Yes
 39.93% 

No
 60.07% 

2775 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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