LEGAL & FINANCE: How Married Couples Still Have Unfair Edge

The Birmingham Post (England), March 10, 2006 | Go to article overview

LEGAL & FINANCE: How Married Couples Still Have Unfair Edge


Byline: By John Duckers Business Editor

A Birmingham lawyer has called for the urgent reform of the law relating to cohabitees, claiming it is outdated and unfair.

Geoff Wood, a partner and head of the private client team at Birmingham firm Coley & Tilley, says there is no adequate legal protection for the two million couples currently living under the same roof.

Following a break-up, if a couple are married, both spouses have a right to ask for maintenance, a lump sum, for property to be transferred in to their name or to be sold and the proceeds divided, and for pension sharing orders.

In contrast, a cohabitee does not have any such rights.

Men or women who move in with a partner can take some limited steps to protect their interests. For example, they can ensure that their home is in joint names. If a couple elect to hold the property as joint tenants, if one dies the other automatically becomes the owner of the home.

But other rights, such as exemption from inheritance tax, are only available to married couples. This applies even where any accumulated wealth was created jointly.

Mr Wood said it came as a surprise to many that the law is so different for people who have chosen to live together, rather than marry.

"The law is out of step with modern relationships. The number of women who cohabit before marriage is now 70 per cent in England and Wales. This means that thousands are vulnerable in the event that their relationship breaks down."

However, Mr Wood believes it is only a matter of time before increased legal protection over property rights is extended to unmarried couples.

He said: "The Law Commission is currently reviewing the property rights of couples who share a home and the financial injustices which may arise when the relationship ends. …

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