Law body appeals for introduction of no-fault divorce and cohabitation rights

A family law body is urging the government to introduce blame-free divorce and property rights for cohabitees, The Guardian reports.

A nationwide organisation of family lawyers dedicated to non-confrontational divorce, separation and other family issues is prompting the government to play catch-up by introducing blame-free divorce and property rights for cohabiting couples.

The family law body, called Resolution, points out that family life is dynamic and has changed considerably while the laws governing it have remained almost static.

On this basis, Resolution has drafted a manifesto for the government’s attention in the lead up to the General Election in May.

The manifesto calls for the introduction of no-fault divorce and more equitable property rights for cohabiting couples.

It further illuminates six areas where, according to Resolution, laws impacting on how couples and their children separate are “unmodern” and in urgent need of amendment.

The manifesto states: “We have a divorce system focused on blame,” provides “little support for vulnerable people going through a separation, restricted access to alternatives to court, a lack of financial clarity for couples on divorce and no legal protection for people who split-up after living together.”

Long-time proponent of blame-free divorce and cohabitation rights, solicitor and chair of Resolution, Jo Edwards, identifies the crux of the problem.

“…despite the family justice system going through a period of huge transformation in recent years – not least with the devastating cuts to legal aid – the laws governing it are woefully outdated, inadequate and unfair to many people,” she said.

Ms. Edwards puts her arguments into historical context: “Successive governments…have failed to address these issues. Divorce without blame was actually provided for in the 1996 Family Law Act, but was never enacted and was actually repealed last year.”

She says the blame culture that has long engulfed divorce does more harm than good to parting couples: “…having to assign blame [adultery or unreasonable behaviour]…is a huge barrier to amicable dispute resolution and unnecessarily introduces conflict into the process.”

In 2007, the Law Commission suggested law reforms applicable to cohabitees upon separation, but no legislation ensued.

Of the approximately six million cohabitees in Britain, many falsely believe that they have the same rights as married couples upon separation.

However, the reality is that English law does not recognise the status of a ‘common law’ spouse or partner.

Resolution advocates a system of rights and responsibilities to be put in place for cohabitees, providing them with some degree of legal protection and fairer results following separation or the death of one partner, The Guardian reports.

One of Britain’s most senior family law experts, retired High Court judge, Sir Paul Coleridge, disagrees.

He says that cohabitees should never be given legal rights over each other’s money and property.

Previously a supporter of cohabitees’ rights, Sir Coleridge, who heads the Marriage Foundation think-tank, believes that giving legal rights to cohabitees would signal official approval of such relationships, the children of which are disadvantaged in life relative to those of marital relationships.

Statistics reveal that relationships of cohabiting couples typically last only one-third as long as the average marriage.

There is also evidence to suggest that children of cohabitees are less healthy, less wealthy and less likely to achieve at school.