A call for cohabitation reform

The problem with the current law on cohabitation is that there isn’t one. Despite popular belief, there is no such thing as a common law marriage (it has not existed since 1753) and separating couples have very minimal legal rights or protection.

This often leads to the more financially vulnerable party potentially facing hardship and difficulties. Coupled with the fact that cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK, it is time this inequality is addressed.

So, we asked Sushma Kotecha, Managing Partner from our Nottingham office to join us on the blog to add her voice to the continuing calls for cohabitation reform.

“Almost half of us mistakenly believe that common law marriage exists. The findings from this year’s British Social Attitudes Survey carried out by The National Centre for Social Research revealed that 46% of people surveyed are under the false impression that cohabiting couples form a common law marriage. This figure remains largely unchanged over the last fourteen years (47% in 2005) despite a significant increase in the number of cohabiting couples.

Cohabitees cannot rely on UK family courts. As it currently stands, there is very little legal protection for cohabitees who separate and need to resolve disputes that may have arisen in respect of property, finances and/or children. The law in this area is very complex and can lead to unfair outcomes.

For this reason, more people are turning to Cohabitation/Living Together Agreements to record the financial arrangements that are to apply in respect of their cohabitation and what should happen if their relationship fails.

Cohabitation/Living Together Agreements are contracts that can include provisions dealing with income, property, children, wills and legacies and many other issues that may be relevant.

Anne Barlow, Professor of Family Law and Policy at the University of Exeter said:

“Our data clearly shows that almost half of us falsely believe that common law marriage exists in England and Wales when, in reality, cohabitation grants no general legal status to a couple. Cohabiting couples now account for the fastest growing type of household and the number of opposite sex cohabiting couple families with dependent children has more than doubled in the last decade. Yet whilst people’s attitudes towards marriage and cohabitation have shifted, the policy has failed to keep up with the times.

The result is often severe financial hardship for the more vulnerable party in the event of separation, such as women who have interrupted their career to raise children. Therefore, it’s crucial that we raise awareness of the difference between cohabitation, civil partnership and marriage and any differences in rights that come with each.”

Notwithstanding a call for reform from lead bodies and Judges, the government has resisted implementing proposed changes that would make the system fairer for separating cohabitees.

Lord Marks’ Cohabitation Rights Bill has had its second reading and Resolution (a body of specialist family lawyers and other professionals) will be liaising with Lord Marks about laying the bill again in the next parliamentary session.

When this was debated in Parliament in 2014, the number of people cohabiting in the UK had risen from less than 3 million in 1996 to 5.9 million. The figure is now 6.6 million, and this rate of increase is not abating.

The Office for National Statistics’ 2018 figures shows that cohabiting families are the fastest growing family form and a quarter of all children are growing up in cohabiting families. About 40% of cohabiting couples have children together while cohabiting. The Bill is aimed not just at those couples but at their children, who stand to suffer from their parents break up.

If you intend to cohabit or are currently cohabiting and wish to regulate your rights in the event of a relationship break up to avoid the pitfalls and injustice of the existing laws, please contact our Client Care Team here to arrange an initial no-obligation options call with one of our lawyers.

The post A call for cohabitation reform appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: Sushma Kotecha

Husband succeeds in recovering painting, despite wife’s lies

As I have said many times, both here and to my own clients when I was practising, getting a final order is often only half of the battle when it comes to sorting out financial arrangements following divorce. The other half comes in actually enforcing that order.

Despite the importance of enforcement, we don’t see an awful lot of cases about it reported. However, we did get at least a glimpse of it in the case ET v ST, which was decided by Mr Justice Mostyn in April last year, but which only recently appeared on the Bailii website. The case is also of interest because of the wife’s attempts to thwart the enforcement action.

The case revolved around the husband’s attempts to recover a painting by the artist Caziel. The painting was amongst the contents of a property that it had been agreed should be retained by the husband. That agreement was incorporated into a consent order in July 2011.

For the benefit of those, including myself, who are not art experts Caziel was, according to Wikipedia, “a Polish artist who lived and worked in Paris during the inter-war period and who worked alongside a number of important figures of the School of Paris, including Pablo Picasso”. Despite that illustrious connection, I don’t think his paintings are especially valuable – a quick internet search reveals them being sold for anything between a few hundred pounds and five thousand pounds. We are not told how much the painting in this case is worth, although obviously it could also have had sentimental value to the husband.

By October 2017 the painting had not been delivered up to the husband by the wife, and the husband therefore commenced enforcement proceedings.

On three occasions the wife had told the court that she had not seen the painting for some years, and implied that the husband had taken it. Two of those statements were made under oath from the witness box, and one in a written witness statement endorsed with a statement of truth. However, in another witness statement in January 2018 the wife admitted that her earlier statements had been untrue – she did know the whereabouts of the painting.

Following this, the painting was recovered by the husband, although not before the husband had issued an application for the wife to be committed to prison for breach of the order.

There still, however, remained the issue of the husband’s costs, both of the enforcement action and of the committal proceedings. In addition to this, the husband sought permission from the court to proceed with committal proceedings against the wife in respect of both her false witness statement and her lies under oath. These issues fell to Mr Justice Mostyn to determine.

Dealing with the committal application first, Mr Justice Mostyn refused permission for the husband to proceed. The reason for this is that he considered that the husband had a better avenue available to him: criminal proceedings against the wife for perjury, which carry with them a maximum prison sentence of seven years. We are not told whether or not the husband chose to take this course.

As to the issue of costs, Mr Justice Mostyn felt it unarguable that the husband should recover his costs relating to the enforcement action. As to the committal application, Mr Justice Mostyn felt that the husband had pursued this “in a very single-minded way”, despite the fact that he had achieved his primary aim, which was to recover the painting. Accordingly, Mr Justice Mostyn only ordered the wife to pay 50% of the husband’s costs in relation to the committal application.

An interesting little case, illustrating quite typical enforcement issues: one party having to go back to the court to recover an asset that should have been delivered to them, and the other party lying to the court in an attempt to thwart them. The case is also perhaps an illustration of the perils of being over-zealous when it comes to enforcement: one can fully understand the husband’s annoyance at the wife’s lies, and his determination that she should not ‘get away’ with them, but in the end his actions cost him money that he was not able to recover.

You can read the full judgment here.

The post Husband succeeds in recovering painting, despite wife’s lies appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: John Bolch