You are reading the news or watchingTV. Divorce is easy, you think, and you don’t need a reason to get one. Cohabitants, you have the same rights as married people, or so it would seem. There has been a lot in the press about these issues in the last few months. However, if you thought changes have been made, you are wrong.
Despite the support of most family law Judges to change the divorce law, it has not happened. Legislation passed in 1973 is still current. Society left the seventies some time ago! While society and the definition of family have changed beyond recognition in that time, Parliament has not taken any action. Until Parliament does something, we can only rely on the 1973 legislation.
It takes time to change legislation. Change requires planning. The Queen announces any proposed changes at the beginning of the Parliamentary term. Even then, there may not be enough time to pass the new legislation. Unpassed legislation goes back on the waiting list! The truth is simple – changing the divorce law does not win votes and so there is no priority. Bizarrely, hunting has been debated in Parliament several times in the last 45 years yet affects a fraction of the people affected by divorce! Hmmm…
In the meantime, it would be naïve to say that people don’t manipulate the law to suit themselves. I am sure that many spouses agree the content of a divorce petition before they even see a solicitor, even if the content is not quite accurate. I am not condoning this. But it does seem nonsensical that spouses have to resort to this when a relatively simple change in legislation can cure this.
It is a common misconception by cohabitants that they have the same rights as married people. They don’t.
As the make up of families has changed so dramatically in the last 45 years, so has the attitude towards living together. People live together, more and more, then get married. Others live together and dont marry because they choose not to. But again, Parliament has done nothing to reflect the way society has changed.
There is one main piece of legislation that deals with married people. Married people’s rights resides in legislation and fine tuned by the Court system. For cohabitants, there is not one individual and comprehensive piece of legislation to protect them. This causes huge issues and can often be unfair for the weaker party.
For example, if two people are married, and one of them has given up their job to look after children, that person is an equal partner in the marriage. He/she has equal rights with the person who was the main breadwinner. However, if they were not married and the home is in the name of the main breadwinner, the parent with care has to prove that he/she has a right to an interest in the home. It is not an automatic right. If sufficient proof cannot be provided, then they may not receive any financial benefit on separation.
Once again, most family law Judges are crying out for a change to protect cohabitants. Once again, Parliament is doing little , despite intensive lobbying by family law organisations such as Resolution. As in the case of divorce, making these changes is not an obvious vote winner and so it does not take priority. Some groups believe in the sanctity of marriage and will argue the case for it.
This becomes a volatile debate and I can see the viewpoint of both sides. However, if the law reflects our society, then this is really poor. Not only does society accept cohabitation as a fact of life but there’s an expectation that people will live together.
As a family lawyer, lack of change frustrates me, a lot…. It means that I often have to justify to clients why they need to give reasons for a divorce, even though the separation is amicable; or that their rights as cohabitants are limited.
As a reader, it would be good if you could share this blog with as many people as possible. Don’t be afraid to send it to your MP! I believe in the “drip drip” effect!
Political rant over! If you need to speak to me about your divorce or your separation, please contact me, Venisha Shah, on 020 3150 2525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org