The President of the High Court’s Family Division, Sir James Munby, has called for unmarried couples to receive the same financial rights afforded to married couples on the breakdown of their relationships. At a press conference held on 29th April 2014, he also recommended that couples divorcing by consent, should be able to formalise their own separations by reverting to the Registrar, in the same way that births and deaths are registered. Sir James added that to divide divorce proceedings from the process of distributing assets, would pave the way for quicker and less painful separations. Indeed, he went so far as to advocate the concept of a non-fault based divorce; ‘Has the time not come to legislate to remove all concepts of fault as a basis for divorce and to leave irretrievable breakdown as the sole ground?’ On the issue of cohabiting couples’ rights upon the breakdown of their relationships, he went on to say; ‘If a marriage is terminated by divorce, the court has power to redistribute the matrimonial assets between the spouses.
There is no such relief for cohabitants when their relationship breaks down, however long their relationship has lasted.’ Sir James’ comments stem from his views that reform as to the rights of cohabitants is in great need of reform.
Despite this, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed that the government has no current plans to reform this area of law. He expressed his concerns that under the existing law, a woman could be ‘thrown on the scrapheap’ in situations where a separation from her wealthy partner could result in financial remedies for any children born to them, but none for her. This is notwithstanding the sacrifices that she had made during the relationship i.e. loss of career prospects, which would have been recognised were she married. At stevensdrake, our Family department can offer advice on both cohabitation disputes and on divorce proceedings.