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Daily View: Unmarried couples' rights

Clare Spencer | 10:16 UK time, Friday, 4 February 2011

Wedding ring on Bible


Commentators discuss unmarried couples' rights. This follows top family judge Sir Nicholas Wall's suggestion in the Times that unmarried partners should be given the right to each have an equitable share of assets and money should their relationship break down.

The Telegraph's editorial says what looks like a benign move towards fairness is fraught with difficulties:

"Many couples cohabit precisely because they do not want to have a contractual obligation with each other or with the state. Since they have rejected the protection offered by marriage, why should they then rush to law when the relationship ends? As Baroness Deech, professor of law at Gresham College, London, once observed, 'a cohabitation law would be a windfall for lawyers but for no one else except the gold digger'. While there might be a case for amending the law to offer compensation where vulnerable children are involved, the idea of giving cohabitees the same rights as married couples should be resisted."

Also in the Telegraph Peter Oborne says that one of the most attractive features of David Cameron as leader of the Opposition was his readiness to stand against "this kind of fashionable rubbish" until now:

"Now we come to something very troubling. In government, Cameron has been - there is no other word - useless. He has done nothing to remedy the bias against marriage in the tax system, while the strike against child benefit announced by George Osborne at last year's autumn conference will make life far more difficult for millions of married couples. Cameron has not even restored the official status of marriage, which was abolished by New Labour. Like Tony Blair, he has talked the language of family values; and, like Tony Blair, he has not lifted a finger to protect or promote them."

Mary Dejevsky argues in the Independent that those who want the benefits of marriage should just get married:

"Of more benefit than changing the law would be to strengthen the case for marriage - less for moral than for coolly practical reasons. One explanation for why the institution has declined so sharply in Britain is that the incentives - above all economic, but also social - have been deliberately shrunk by successive governments. Indeed, for those receiving benefits, any incentives are mostly the other way. Reverse that, and let's see what happens. Just refrain from making the argument as a sermon; sell it as self-interest instead."

On the Adam Smith Institute blog Henry Oliver applauds Sir Nicholas Wall's suggestion:

"This is currently dealt with using the law of trusts, which can often be deeply unfair on the woman. Financial contributions at the beginning can be determinative of the woman's share later on - contributions such as childcare and domestic work are highly unlikely to gain the woman a greater share in the property. A married woman, on the other hand, will have statutory rights to a share of the money and property.
"The courts have no power to order financial relief like they do in the case of a divorce, so these claims are crucial. However, they are complicated, uncertain, time consuming and expensive. All of this can be avoided by a simple "express declaration of trust" at the beginning of the cohabitation. But how many people even know what that is? The majority of people don't even have a will."

The Rabbi for Maidenhead Synagogue Jonathan Romain says in the Times that although he supports the institute of marriage, rights for cohabitees should also be created:

"One can uphold the structure of marriage yet also be appalled at the fiscal fate of women who have been in a long-term unmarried relationship, often with children, and then find themselves both without a partner and without any support.
"Of course it would have been better for them to have been married in the first place, but we still throw lifebelts to those who get into deep waters through their own folly, and should do so now by amending the law on the rights of cohabiting couples. Equity is as much a religious value as matrimony."

Links in full

Frances | Gibb | Times Top family judge's charter for unmarried couples
Telegraph | Living together is not the same thing as marriage
Peter Oborne | Telegraph | David Cameron has caved in to those waging war against the family
Mary Dejevsky | Independent | If you want the benefits of marriage, take the plunge
Henry Oliver | Adam Smith Institute blog | Three Cheers for Sir Nicholas Wall
Jonathan Romain | Times | Marriage versus the unmarried couples' charter

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