Monday, June 11, 2007

Law Commission to recommend Cohabiting Couples get the same rights as Married ones

The Law Commission has been sticking its nose where it does not belong in this area for some time.

The issue is that people think that if you live together for 3 months, 6, 12, 2 years or so many full moons you have the rights of a married couple.

You don't.

In fact you have no rights at all. The only place where complications arise is where property is in the names of more than one person, as either tenants in common or joint tenants.

In the former case the proportion owned by each party is a complex balance of who put in what whilst in the latter an equal split is assumed, regardless of the number of joint tenants.

In principle the fact that an intimate makes no legal difference to a case. So it does not matter if you share a bed or not, but rather obviously it does make a bit of an evidential difference.

According to this report in the Times, the Law commission proposes giving unmarried couples the same rights, dropping requirements for a time limit, but adding ones for financial disadvantage.

However the article at almost its last gasp says this:

"Research shows that few people are aware of their lack of rights and many wrongly believe that cohabitation makes them “common law” spouses with rights similar to those of married couples."

That is certainly true, but that only applies to some unmarried couples not all, so the ignorance of the many is being used as an excuse to change the relationship of the rest without dealing with the real problem which is that most people have got it wrong.

It only takes an afternoon to get married in a registry office and it need not cost a lot of money. The issue is that people don't know, and even if they did they would not always want to get married. Getting married carries obligations as well as rights. These proposals seem to confer rights where they did not exist before without adding the rights.

The rules the Law Commission want to bring in appear to be applied to same sex couples as well. What I found interesting is the hostility to these new rules from the gay community who fought for and got the right to have same sex relationships recognised in law who object to the changes because they can see that if you want those rights, you can go and sign up for them today with no change in the law.

All this happens against the backdrop of London becoming the divorce capital of the world. Ellee Seymour has this excellent article highlighting why.


Anonymous said...

You have to understand that the British "benefit" dependent classes - and I use this term advisedly, to exclude the aspirational classes, for whom I have great respect - are stupid.

By "stupid", I mean "brain dead".

Let me put this another way. If a dinosaur thum[ed along and trod on their brain matter, it would make no difference to their thinking skills.

"Common law" wives and husbands aren't even legal in all American states, never mind the totally different country of Great Britain.

They think because they saw it on TV and it was mouthed by trashy people who were thinner, wore skimpier tops, were more tanned and had better hair than they do that that makes it law in Britain.

How do the Norwegians feel about this?

Do stupid tanned people who can't speak except in sub-glottals, but drive genuine American pick-ups with rifles in the rack on back (because it is LEGAL IN SOME STATES OF THE UNITED STATES), automatically qualify for "common law" marriage rights in Norway? How about Latvia?

Except for a few states - out of 50 - in the US, there is no such thing as "common law marriage" - except in the movies.

God, I hate stupid people.

Benedict White said...

Verity, I know many people who think there is such a thing as "common law marriage" from all sorts of different backgounds including fairly well educated ones.

What is more it takes an enourmous effort to change their minds.

Anonymous said...

I am totally baffled by the thinking of stupid people.

If they want to feel married in a "common law" marriage, why didn't they just get married?

Unless those people make wills, they have no right of inheritance when one of them dies.

Also, you never seem to hear about "common law divorce". What happens to these "common law marriages" when the marriage breaks up? Does it just, kind of, fade away?

In the American states that recognise "common law" marriage, there are rules. The couple has to have been living together as man and wife for three years AND PRESENTING THEMSELVES AS MAN AND WIFE. In other words, they've got to have been referring to "my husband" or "my wife" for three years and then I think (not clear on this point) they can then get piece of paper that says they're married. So why not just go down to the Registry Office three years earlier and get a certificate and enjoy all the legal benefits of marriage?

Also, there are not just inheritance, but tax, implications. In the US, in the early pioneer days,common law was respectable for various reasons. People who had travelled such vast distances by horse and cart, and perhaps stopped and lived in several places on the way, may well no longer have been able to lay their hands on their birth certificates and other legal documents.

I've heard stupid British people referring to someone's "common law wife" and there is no such thing. It drives me crazy. They are just such copycats of America, which they affect to despise.

Benedict White said...

Verity, until a ruling in something like 1846 there was the concept of common law marriage in England but a court ruling through it out.

In Scotland there is a similar system to the states you refer to where you can go before a sheriff after a period of time and ask for the "marriage" to be regularised.

I doubt you could do either in Scotland or the states if there was a dispute.

However it is a common misconception borne of misinformation and lack of education. I suspect it also exists in the USA even where common law marriages do not exist.

However, the point I made, and you reiterate, is why bother when you can go down to the registry office and get a piece of paper in the morning?