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Divorce and co-habiting couples

Eddie Mair | 16:49 UK time, Thursday, 30 August 2007

Should unmarried couples who live together get new rights to help should they split? One of our guests, Marilyn Stowe thinks so. What about you?


  1. At 05:10 PM on 30 Aug 2007, Fifi wrote:

    As half of a non-married couple for 20+ years, I would welcome anything that protects our rights without having to go for the legal shorthand package of 'marriage'.

    My other half is an architect, often the only person in a construction project with Public Liability insurance. Anything goes wrong, whether his fault or not, and there is only one person one can sue.

    If that happened to him and we were married, WE could lose our home even though it happens to be solely in my name and I pay the mortgage.

    But if we were to split up while we are unmarried, he'd have no legal right to a share of the home, even though he actually pays the bills and does most of the usual home improvements.

    That looks like a lose-lose to me!


  2. At 05:54 PM on 30 Aug 2007, Robert A wrote:

    Fifi - If what you say about your SO's Public Liability Insurance is true then it is time that you got a new broker or increased the cover. The idea of paying insurance premiums is that you are covered for any claims.

  3. At 05:59 PM on 30 Aug 2007, Steve Brereton wrote:

    Marriage is a commitment, bound with certain rights and responsibilities. Those who choose to co-habit without marriage cannot possibly expect any special rights, otherwise what is the point of marriage?

    If you do not feel able to make the commitments of marriage, do not try to expect something when things go wrong.

  4. At 06:00 PM on 30 Aug 2007, JF wrote:

    People who choose to live together choose to be independent and separate people and not married people. The two options must remain available for adults to choose which they prefer, otherwise people are being forced into a kind of relationship they do not choose. The fact that some people are ignorant about the status of cohabitation is not a good reason for changing the law. The answer is more education, so that people understand the distinction and make informed choice. There is no reason why unmarried individuals should not make whatever financial arrangements they choose, but it is not the business of anyone else including the state, except where it concerns children and there is already legislation to deal with that.

  5. At 06:17 PM on 30 Aug 2007, Brenda Leonard wrote:

    If cohabiting couples want the protection of marriage, surely the simple answer is to get married. Marriage is a legal commitment, which confers certain rights and responsibilities on both partners, and offers some protection in the event of a divorce.

    To give protection to cohabiting couples, there would have to be some rules - for instance, how long would a couple have to live together to obtain these rights? Two years? A year? Six months? Six weeks? Presumably, they would have to enter into some sort of contract - and can you imagine the fun the lawyers would have with that?

    There is already a very convenient contract available. It's called marriage.

  6. At 06:22 PM on 30 Aug 2007, Martin wrote:

    I recall someone who deliberately did not get married because of the financial implications of the partnership. If you are committed to each other what is so difficult about marriage?

  7. At 07:12 PM on 30 Aug 2007, Fearless Fred wrote:

    As I've never been married, nor am i cohabiting, I can't comment directly on this topic. However, I would like to ask the rest of the
    folks here what they make of the suggestion that
    married couples should get either tax relief or ncentives for "staying together". My own tuppence worth is that this would elevate marriage "above" any form of lifestyle. Why should people who are heterosexual who have chosen to get married have a benefit that couples in civil partnerships, those co-habiting, those who have chosen to be single, those who are divorced, those who are widowed, those who through circumstances are single are not privy to? Is a married couple who have been together 18 months "worth" more to society than , say, a single person? How about a gay couple who have been together 40 years? How about a co-habiting couple of the same length of time?Is it really good for iciety to create a kind of social apartheid based on the convention of marriage that is not available to all?

  8. At 08:11 PM on 30 Aug 2007, Hella Gamper wrote:

    Measles-a dangerous & horrible disease?! I thought it was one of those "normal" childhood illnesses which strenghtened your immune system in the long run.Of course one could always opt for the toxic cocktail called vaccination,made up of chemicals called thimerosal(preservative derived from mercury) formaldehyde,phenols,aluminium sulphate&,animal sera.
    Research shows that childhood diseases such as measles may provide natural desensitisation against atopy--hypersensitivity against common allergens.
    Strangely enough no-one seems to mention that measles-epidemics continue to occur in fully vaccinated children. Anything to do with the fact that doctors and anyone else involved with the pharmaceutical industry gets big money from that single (or double ) jab.?

  9. At 08:55 PM on 30 Aug 2007, Anne P. wrote:

    Hella (8) I am of a generation that just had to catch all the childhood illnesses and get over them but I would caution against always regarding the pharmaceutical industry as a big bad wolf.

    Illnesses such as diphtheria and tetanus were dreadful killers and the mortality from smallpox could be very high indeed. All these are no longer regarded as threats in the UK due to the development and use of vaccines.

    The MMR vaccine was not available to my four children who all caught measles and recovered, but it made them more ill than any of the other things they had. Healthy children do recover, but in rare cases there can be very serious complications including brain damage and blindness. Part of the argument in favour of vaccination relates to so-called herd immunity, creating a pool of the immune large enough to keep widespread epidemics at bay.

    You only have to look at the mortality figures for children in the nineteenth century to know that the threats were very real.

    A decision to vaccinate or not will always be one of the most difficult a parent has to make for a young child.

  10. At 09:31 PM on 30 Aug 2007, Gillian wrote:

    Hella (8) As far as I'm aware, vaccinated children do not die because of measles, whereas unvaccinated ones do. Death from measles may be normal, but it is unnecessary.

  11. At 09:45 PM on 30 Aug 2007, admin annie wrote:

    Fearless, the concept of a married man's allowance goes back to the days when married women in general didn't work and was an acknowledgement from the powers that be that the man concerned therefore had more calls on his paypacket. The extra allowances that were given for children were a direct extension of this; children are expensive therefore a father needs more money left in his pocket than his unmarried colleague, or a married co-worker without children. There was a time, believe it or not when these things had a logic to them. Some people remember the fact of the allowance but forget that the social conditions which made them meaningful are long gone.

  12. At 11:04 PM on 30 Aug 2007, Sid Cumberland wrote:

    Hella (8)

    MMR vaccine does not contain thimerosal (unless you believe the Daily Mail).


  13. At 11:07 PM on 30 Aug 2007, Gossipmistress wrote:

    Hella (8) I would have to agree with Anne P & Gillian. Measles may be a mild disease for many children but for the very young and older people it can easily have very serious consequences or be fatal. We are cushioned by the effects of mass vaccination so that most people now have little or no experience of just how bad some of these diseases can be.

    To quote one article:

    Measles is endemic in many countries and globally it is estimated that 1 million children die from measles every year*

    *Source - Health Protection Agency - you can find their info here

    I would be the first to be cynical about the motives of many drug companies but having had years of direct experience of vaccination - and the lack of it - (albeit in animals) I would have to say that my general view is hugely positive.

  14. At 01:29 AM on 31 Aug 2007, jonnie wrote:

    Martin and Fifi - I side with you for obvious reasons - however my parents were married and I respect that commitment and security that it offered me - but things have moved on.

  15. At 06:01 AM on 31 Aug 2007, The Stainless Steel Cat wrote:

    Steve (3):

    I agree with one little point of your post:

    "...what is the point of marriage?"

    To explain what I mean, let's take Martin (6)'s question:

    "If you are committed to each other what is so difficult about marriage?"

    I'd say: if you have that committment anyway, why bother with marriage when it comes loaded with so much cultural baggage? Unless that cultural baggage is what you want of course, and why not?

  16. At 09:15 AM on 31 Aug 2007, Fearless Fred wrote:

    Admin Annie, I understand the historical reasoning behind it. However, it's now being talked about by a certain D. Cameron Esq., as a way to promote family life and encourage couples to stay together, hence my original post. It's something that gets on my nerves every time the tax system is mentioned. Pretty much every budget statement, or tax proposal from all three major parties, has things along the lines of "Let's make a credit for those with children" or "To help society, we propose a tax benefit for married couples", etc. Why is it that those without children or those who through whatever circumstance are single never receive this sort of consideration? We already pay much more per head for local services. A single person pays 75% of Council Tax, compared to a married couple with three kids (such as my neighbours) pay 100%. Who uses the most council tax out of the two households? It is time that the 30% of those who live on their own (data taken from the 2001 census) were taken seriously. After all, that's almost the same percentage as those who voted for this government at the last election. If it's a big enough "mandate" to allow a government to have a sizeable majority, then it's a big enough group to have their views taken seriously.

  17. At 09:24 AM on 31 Aug 2007, Sid Cumberland wrote:

    Some married couples are committed to each other; some aren't. Some unmarried couples are committed to each other; some aren't.

    Some married couples stay together, some don't. Some unmarried couples stay together, some don't.

    Whoever you are, the government has no business rigging the tax system one way or the other to persuade us to marry or not.


  18. At 12:56 PM on 31 Aug 2007, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    Can somebody get the actual figures? Hella @8 says measles isn't a killer, whereas I had vaguely got it ranked in the top three killer diseases for children of the pre-vaccination era.

    Of course, I am slightly biased by its having very nearly killed me and left me with defective eyesight for the rest of my life, but hey, that's presumably 'normal' and nothing I ought to worry about.

    Maybe coming from a generation that actually had something to do with the disease may influence my feelings.

  19. At 02:00 PM on 31 Aug 2007, Sid Cumberland wrote:

    "According to the World Health Organization (WHO), measles is a leading cause of vaccine preventable childhood mortality ... Globally, measles deaths are down 60 percent, from an estimated 873,000 deaths in 1999 to 345,000 in 2005."

    This is from Wikipedia.


  20. At 02:12 PM on 31 Aug 2007, Wonko wrote:

    Declaring my interests upfront on the subject of marriage, legal recognition/protection for co-habiting couples and tax: I'm happily married (to Mrs Wonko!) with no children.

    On the subject of legal protection for co-habiting couples; I agree with the earlier point about the trouble with defining a stable relationship. Any definition is going to be unfair to someone. It would be a field day for the Lawyers, and the subject of constant and costly legal battles for years. As far as I'm concerned, that's reason enough to drop this idea. if legal protection is that much of a concern to you, there's a very simple solution available to you, though I would question the strength and sincerity of the relationship if legal protection was your only or primary reason for getting hitched. Which brings me onto the next point.

    A friend of mine said: "Marriage is a mistake every man should make once." ;o)

    As you might expect I don't have any problem with the concept or practice of marriage. I asked Mrs Wonko to marry me because I love her and want to spend the rest of my life with her. Marriage - for me - is a public declaration of this. I'm afraid that I just don't comprehend the problem some have with marriage. I'm not saying that people who co-habit for years are wrong, or that I disagree with their lifestyle choices in any way, I firmly believe in personal freedom to live how you choose. It's just not my choice and I don't understand why they choose to do it. Is a registry office wedding with a couple of witnesses that big a deal? Apparently so, even when no-one has to change their name, unless they want to. It may be social convention, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. It's largely social convention that most crimes are a crime, that doesn't make it wrong that burglary or assault are against the law. I'm sure those fellow Froggers who are co-habiting and in long term relationships will have sound reasons for doing so, and I would be glad of reading their comments with a view to helping me further understand their position.

    Now the question of tax allowances for married people and people with children. I lived alone as a single person with no dependents for over ten years, so I paid my share Council Tax at the 75% rate! I've also been refused leave during the summer because all the people with children were off, but that's another issue. As I understand the case the Conservatives are putting, research indicates that children brought up in stable relationships do better and get into less trouble - as a whole - than those brought up in single parent households. And children raised with two married parents do even better. Of course there are always individual cases that go against these findings on both sides, as always in social sciences we're dealing in generalities. The arguement then goes that in order to provide the best possible conditions for future generations we should make it more desirable for couples with children to stay together, preferably married, and tax benefits are an easy way to do this. For me the logic of the arguement falls down because it doesn't fairly reflect society today. Whatever our desires are for society, we can't turn back the clock. Single people, couples without children and single parents all contribute to society too, and their needs are just as relevant as the classic nuclear family. Politicians (on all sides) recent obsession with "hard working families" has alienated everyone else - where's our tax break? they cry.

    I think that the success of a child has more to do with their social situation and relative poverty in their household than the number or status of their parents. I don't have any figures to back this up, but I would be interested to see if there is any correlation between numbers and status of parents, and their relative affluence and social situation, because I think there might be one. I think the money would be better spent on providing meaningful, constructive education and activites for youngsters and breaking the cycle of poverty, low expectations, poor education and reliance on the state.

    And I still get a thrill when I see post addressed to "Mrs [insert my first name] Wonko. ;o) []

  21. At 02:39 PM on 31 Aug 2007, Jo wrote:

    Not everybody who is co-habiting chooses it in preference to marraige. I'm sure there are a number of people who would like to get married but their partner doesn't want to - it takes two to tango and two to want to get married.

    Fair enough.....nobody should be forced to get married!!!

    But someone who is cohabiting, perhaps for a very long time, paying the bills rather than the mortgage, for example, may not be choosing not to have the protection of marriage, it may be that their partner has made that choice for them.

    That's why there is a need for protection for some unmarried couples.

    It's the same principles of protecting employees from unscrupulous employers...technically, an employee can go and work for someone lese, but life is not always that simple, is it?

  22. At 03:00 PM on 31 Aug 2007, Fearless Fred wrote:

    Gah! Having given up the ghost on my (16) appearing, I decided to try and re-do it, only for my original to appear! Still I think the two links in my second post add to the point of view that I was trying to make...

  23. At 03:37 PM on 31 Aug 2007, Steve Brereton wrote:

    The Stainless Steel Cat(15)

    "I'd say: if you have that commitment anyway, why bother with marriage when it comes loaded with so much cultural baggage? Unless that cultural baggage is what you want of course, and why not?"

    A significant part of getting married is that you (and your spouse-to-be) are standing before your families and friends and making a commitment in front of them.
    I see no cultural baggage in there. it is a single ceremony that allows you to declare something important.

    By not going through that ceremony, you are not making the commitment before others. To my mind, that suggests that you are not prepared to make that particular commitment and thus should not be entitled to any protections when it goes wrong.

  24. At 04:19 PM on 31 Aug 2007, Fifi wrote:

    Marriage isn't always about commitment. Neither is co-habiting necessarily about a lack of commitment.

    If marriage were just about standing up in front of society and declaring a commitment, fine I'd consider doing that. Great excuse for a party, and for making it clear to our nearest and dearest that Mr F and I are in it for keeps.

    But the laws of inheritance, property, divorce, tax, pensions, NI ... mean that in signing up to marriage you are signing up to a lot of small print, some of which puts some individuals or some couples at a disadvantage they could not foresee, should it go wrong. Some of this has been redressed in recent years - but not all.

    Sid Cumberland is right: to generalise either way is false. And I also agree that to set 'thresholds' on what is/isn't a relationship 'worth' anything is a difficult thing and open to exploitation by the unscrupulous and feckless.

    ... oh, just like marriage.

    I'm not saying give co-habiting couples the same rights as married couples. I'm saying, redesign the long term relationship contract from scratch. Make things equitable, based on how our society is today rather than how it was when marriage was first formalised as a contract.

    Then see whether there's a mass clamour from the marrieds to get equality.


  25. At 08:15 PM on 31 Aug 2007, Hella Gamper wrote:

    To all of you who replied to my comment re. vaccinations. The info. I have comes from medical journals(Lancet, BMJ.,etc) so I am not making anything up.Sid,the MMR.vaccine itself may not contain thimerosal,(others do) but it does contain live viruses,neomycin,gelatin,sorbitol,chick embryo,human foetal cells. Feel more reassured?!
    It would take hours to relate all the relevant facts in respect of vaccinations but perhaps I can suggest reading the "Vaccination bible"-published by "What doctors don't tell you" or Dr. Viera Scheibner's reports (Vaccination, New South Wales,1993). Alternatively go on to the "Vaccination-liberation" homepage and find out the truth.

  26. At 01:39 PM on 02 Sep 2007, nikki noodle wrote:

    All I have to say is this: some people seem to think that marriage is a contract between two people.

    It is not; it is more like a merger of two individuals into a single entity, a 'married couple'.

    Thereafter, the one party, (the married couple) has *all* the advantages and disadvantages occuring to it.

    Whereas, the two parties (the cohabiting couple) has *two* sets of interests to accommodate.

    As for tax, there is one set of tax rates for a "married couple" and another set for an "individual". How can two parties expect to be taxed as one, unless they merge?


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