I read with interest Lord Justice Wall’s recent proposal that unmarried couples should get the same rights to share property and assets when they split up as do married couples and those in civil unions. He is the newly designated President of the Family Division, so his opinions carry weight.
On present estimates, there are over two million couples in the United Kingdom living together as ‘partners’, with one in four children born to unmarried parents.
It is difficult to explain the decline in couples failing to formalise their relationship, either in the sight of God or in a civil ceremony recognised by law. Part of the explanation may lie in the fact that we are becoming an increasingly Godless society, with Church numbers dwindling at an alarming rate, and the cost of a full blown Church wedding is prohibitive to many couples, the more so as they stand only a 60% chance of making it work beyond four years. But a civil ceremony, whilst less glamorous, is far more affordable, thirty minutes maximum, followed by beer and sandwiches at a nearby hostelry and a jolly good knees up, and if money is tight, make it a cash bar. And let’s face it, if a civil ceremony is good enough for the heir to the throne, it’s good enough for the plebs.
The sad reality may be down to a lack of commitment, which is tragic, and positively damaging once children come along. For my part, I believe that couples planning a life together should make the same commitments as those who formalise their relationship, and by amending the law to give the same rights to unmarried couples sends out the wrong message.
In passing, it is worth noting that unmarried couples do have rights under the law, but for reasons lost in the mists of time, they are encapsulated in the Trusts of Land and the Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, not every couple’s first port of call. At least under this Act, separating couples can seek a declaration from the court as to the division of assets acquired during the partnership, as well as an order for sale of partnership property. But the problem for separating partners is that this Act does not take into account the many variables available to the court in other circumstances, and assumes, in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, an equal division of everything.
The other problem for partners is that the vast majority simply do not understand the legal consequences in the event of separation, and as we all know, ignorance of the law is no defence. For those few who seek legal advice, and draw up a contract, it is an expensive and protracted process where the costs can be considerable, and far in excess of the cost of a civil ceremony.
As a dyed in the wool traditionalist, I deplore partnerships where a long term relationship is envisaged, and I do not support the call to government to legalise them. You are either in it for the long haul, in which case walk the walk, or live with the consequences when the relationship goes belly up.