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Southport Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:- 06 August 2007

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FINDINGS from a survey of family lawyers in England and Wales has backed the case for urgent reform of the law affecting couples who live together.  More than 70% of lawyers surveyed by family law group Resolution stated that, in their experience, the law badly fails to protect the interests of cohabiting couples when they separate. The lack of any legal remedy, as well as costs and uncertainty of outcome, were cited as the main reasons for this failure.

Says Jo-anne Lomax, of Wirral law firm, Lees and Partners, who represents Resolution in the region:- "These survey results clearly show the need for legal reform. Resolution fully supports the Law Commission's proposals for reforming cohabitation law, which were published last week, and will be pressing the government to move forward and introduce new legislation without delay.

The present law provides no protection for couples who live together. Most cohabiting couples assume they have rights as "
common law" spouses - but no such rights exist. The uncertainty and lack of clarity cohabiting couples face means increased insecurity and distress at the time of break up, as well as injustice and high legal costs if couples go to court to resolve their differences. The costs involved in sorting out property rights of cohabiting couples can often exceed those of a fully contested divorce - precisely because there is so little clarity.

Lack of legal protection might be all well and good if couples had taken the decision to live together fully aware of the lack of rights they would have on separation - but six out of ten cohabiting couples mistakenly believe they have the same or similar rights as married couples. In reality they have few rights at all. Many people only find out that the law is much more complicated after they have split up, or their partner has died,"
says Jo-anne.

With the number of cohabiting households predicted to grow from 1 in 6 to 1 in 4 by 2031, Resolution believes that the need for reform is urgent and that the law must catch up with the way people live their lives today.


THE proposals by the Law Commission to give increased rights to co-habiting couples would undermine not only marriage, but any stable environment in which to raise children.  One has to question the reliability of the Commission's thinking. In defence of the charge that these proposals undermine marriage, the Commission's spokesman told the BBC that marriage is sufficiently strong already as an institution. One has to question the judgement of anyone who believes that.

Then there is the question of child support payments when unmarried co-habiting parents split up. At present, child support has to be paid by a non-resident parent regardless of whether or not the parents were once married. Under the Commission's proposals, however, unmarried co-habiting couples would be allowed to opt out of the proposed co-habitation law by signing an agreement beforehand to "disapply the statute." Since the proposed statute contains provision for payment of child support, the Commission are proposing the creation of a legal loop-hole to avoid child maintenance responsibilities.

Apart from such anomalies, more worrying is that these proposals strike further at the  confidence which men once had when they embarked on fatherhood. Divorce laws are skewed against men. If evidence of this were needed, look to the simple fact that twice as many women as men petition for divorce. Now the Law Commission proposes that these same principles which underpin divorce are to be applied when co-habitation ends.  As such thinking pervades our legal institutions more and more, it takes a very brave and trusting man to embark on fatherhood at all. The woman he chooses to set up home with can use the law to impoverish him, and deny him any involvement in the lives of his children.

So who benefits? Most of us find greatest joy in family life, yet more and more of us are living alone. Just who is it that benefits from increasing amounts of regulation which discourage ordinary people from partaking in that which should bring us most happiness? Cui bono? None other than the law industry which interestingly, is where these proposals came from.

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