Senior judge says law unfair to cohabiteesUnmarried partners unable to claim maintenance

03 February 2011

The scales of justice held up

Sir Nicholas Wall, president of the High Court Family Division, has called for greater rights for cohabitees when couples split up. He says the current rules severely disadvantage unmarried women who have lived with their partner for a long time.

Unmarried partners disadvantaged

Unlike divorce settlements for married couples, the law is unclear over the division assets of couples who live together. 

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 trust.'

He suggested that the courts would be sympathetic to claims where a couple had lived together for a long time, and less sympathetic to a claim where 'cohabitation had been short and the contribution minimal'.

Inheritance rules also different

The law governing inheritance is also different for unmarried partners. If you die without making a will, the intestacy rules apply. 

Cohabiting partners have no claim on the deceased's estate, which is divided between blood relatives. Making a will can avoid an unmarried partner being disadvantaged in this way. 

In addition, unmarried couples are not able to transfer their IHT nil-rate band in the way that married couples and civil partners can.

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