Lords' ruling delivers little clarity to property rights of live together couples

25 Apr 2007

Today’s judgement by the House of Lords in the case of Stack v Dowden does little to clear up the confusion around who gets what when property owning cohabiting couples split, says David Allison, Chair of Resolution’s cohabitation law reform taskforce.

With the number of cohabiting households predicted to grow from one in six to one in four in 2031, Resolution is calling for reform to the law to ensure that it catches up with the way people live their lives today.

“Six out of ten cohabiting couples mistakenly believe they have rights as ‘common law husband and wife’. In reality they have few rights at all. Many people only find out that the law is much more complicated after they have split up, or their partner has died,” said David Allison.

“With no straight forward laws on how to divide assets on separation, there can be no clear advice to separating unmarried couples. People’s disputes either go unresolved or they end up spending most of their resources going to court to clarify the position.

“Legal terms like proprietary estoppel and constructive trusts mean the law in this area is extremely difficult for ordinary live together couples to understand.”

Resolution is calling for the introduction new laws which would apply to couples who have been living together for two years or more, unless there are children, where there should be no minimum period. The law would act as a safety net and prevent injustice by allowing the courts to recognise a cohabiting relationship and decide on an outcome which is fair and reasonable, taking into account individual contributions to the relationship.

“Urgent reform to the law is needed to end the enormous vulnerability of all live-together couples,” said David Allison.

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact:
David Allison
Chair, Cohabitation Committee
0207 420 5000

Teresa Richardson
Head of Communications
Direct line: 020 7357 9215
Mobile: 07894 981 020