Top judge Sir Nicholas Wall calls for unmarried rights

Sir Nicholas Wall Sir Nicholas Wall said women often lost out when couples who lived together split up

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Unmarried couples should have rights to a share of property and money if they split up, the top family judge in England and Wales has said.

Sir Nicholas Wall, president of the Family Division of the High Court, told the Times that women tended to lose out under the current system.

This was because there was an absence of any law on dividing up the assets of couples who lived together, he said.

Sir Nicholas said judges should be able to decide on claims in such situations.

He said the courts would be more sympathetic to a claim for rights where a couple had lived together for a long time.

'Severely disadvantaged'

Sir Nicholas said: "I am in favour of cohabitees having rights because of the injustice of the present situation.

"Women cohabitees, in particular, are severely disadvantaged by being unable to claim maintenance and having their property rights determined by the conventional laws of trusts."

He added: "If cohabitation has been short and the contribution minimal, judges would not be sympathetic to a claim."

Sir Nicholas was giving his first national newspaper interview since becoming president of the Family Division last year.

In 2007 the Law Commission called for new legal rights for people living together in long-term relationships.

Sir Nicholas said he was "disappointed" the government had not acted to bring about the changes.

And the 65-year-old married father-of-four denied that the moves he was proposing may undermine the institution of marriage.

"Marriage undoubtedly remains the most stable relationship for bringing up children and for support," he said.

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