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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 June, 2005, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
All out of love - and cash
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

A couple
Break-ups can get dirty
When it all goes wrong, unmarried couples are often left massively out of pocket, as well as out of love. Help is at hand from a new online checklist.

As well as heartache, a bad break-up often results in some very costly mistakes. In a bid to move on fast, people leave loose ends which have a way of tripping them up further down the line.

When Katie Daines split with her boyfriend, he ended up with her share of their home at a reduced rate, all the furniture - even her car. She ended up with a county court judgement against her after he failed to make payments on a loan they had agreed he would pay off.

"When we split up I didn't know how to begin to sort things out and I didn't want to see him at all if I could avoid it," she says. "But that decision cost me dearly in the long run."

Vulnerable situtation

There are more than four million unmarried couples living together in England and Wales. Almost a third will eventually split, and when it comes to unravelling their lives together, they have few rights.

The Law Commission is reportedly about to review the situation, but it will take time and faces opposition from traditionalists who believe greater rights for co-habitees will undermine marriage.

So the Breaking Up Checklist aims to help people make the right decisions at a time when commonsense and financial acumen are often as absent as the love a couple once shared.

Living together is not like a marriage - the law will not protect you
Andrew Greensmith
Resolution
The checklist can be downloaded from the Advicenow site (see Internet links), a rights and legal website run by the Advice Services Alliance. It offers guidance on issues such as dealing with children, joint bank accounts, debts, benefits, wills and pensions.

Mary Webber, co-habitation expert at Advicenow, says the checklist is about saving a lot of ill-feeling later on.

"Breaking up is always painful and it is easy to avoid sorting everything out properly, " she says. "However, certain things will cause acute problems in the future if they are not tackled at the time of the break-up."

It is also co-habiting myths that result in people finding themselves in financial and legal hell when a relationship ends, the main one being common-law marriage.

A survey by Advicenow suggests that 61% of people think unmarried couples living together gain similar rights to married ones after a certain amount of time, but no such legal status exists in England and Wales.

Mistakes

"Living together is not like a marriage, you don't 'acquire' rights and the law will not protect you," says Andrew Greensmith, vice-chairman of Resolution, an organisation of 5,000 lawyers and family justice professionals.

The most common mistake people make is not to give a thought to what would happen if their relationship goes wrong.

"Uncertainty leads to instability and worse to unwanted and expensive court proceedings. Planning can remove a lot of the uncertainty," he says. "Anything which raises people's awareness of the vulnerability of their position is a good thing so at least they can make informed decisions.

"The checklist should encourage people to think about what they want to happen if things go wrong and help them unravel their joint lives constructively. Problems arising from co-habitation are always very complicated."




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