Wednesday, 28 March 2012

What can the Daily Mail teach about family law?

Actually, by the look of it, zip all!  Take the last time I commented on a Mail columnist - you'll find it here:-


Well, having done a number on how to look after children after separation, last week it was time for the Mail to look at cohabitation and its pitfalls, with equally detailed research and attention to detail!


So, where to start then?

"Whenever my boyfriend — who is a little younger than me at 36 — helps me put up a shelf at home, I confess that a little voice in the back of my mind wonders whether home improvements constitute something legally binding."

Why?  The law really isn't that stupid, for Pete's sake!

" I get worried when he leaves a toothbrush in my bathroom, or a pair of socks in a drawer, because land and property law is so ambiguous about the point at which someone has a claim on you after living in your house."

No, the law isn't unambiguous in this way at all.  How about a bit of  research before writing this sort of drivel?  If you want to claim ownership of a property where your name is not on the title, you have to satisfy a judge that there was an agreement to share ownership.  Then you have to show that you acted to your detriment in reliance on that agreement.  Where you put your toothbrush or socks just doesn't cut it.  Handing over large amounts of money would, I grant you, but then, why shouldn't it?

In my experience, claims of joint ownership are hard to prove and courts rightly look for very strong evidence that the party making the claim has genuinely made a major and direct financial contribution to the asset in question.  Short of that, it's no dice.  Decorating the house isn't enough; paying into a joint bank account isn't enough; looking after the children certainly isn't enough.

"There are horror stories nearly every week of men demanding enormous settlements from their ex-wives." 

You what?  Men demanding enormous settlements from their ex-wives?  Where on earth is that happening?  I'm such a sad individual that I spend my lunch time reading law reports on bailii just for the fun of it and let's be clear, it's wives demanding enormous settlements from husbands that I'm reading - not the other way around.  So what if there were anyway?  That's the by product of equality and why not?  Equality isn't a one way street, nor should it be.

"Millions of couples still mistakenly believe there is such a thing as ‘common-law’ marriage, when there absolutely is not.
This means the law is very ambiguous about who owns what when you cohabit."

True, millions of couples do think that and they're all wrong, just as you say.  I repeat, however, the law is not ambiguous.  The law says that the legal title determines who is the owner except in very unusual circumstances.  I don't know whether statistics are kept, but after over 16 years of family law, I can assure you that I do far more divorces than claims by one cohabitant against another.  In fact, it's so hard to do this that the Law Commission recommended that parliament legislate for financial adjustments between cohabitants but the government kicked that idea into the long grass last autumn.

" For me and the other women who earn more than their partners — my boyfriend works as a builder — the bottom line is this: If almost one in two marriages end in divorce, getting married is like taking a 50-50 gamble on everything you have worked for."

Yes, well, that's how marriage has been for ages.  Men are still expected to do it though.  In divorce, the spouse with the greater asset base is likely to be sharing it with the other, unless it's a very short and childless marriage.  As women are improving their relative prosperity and men are finding homemaking an acceptable occupation, divorce may well mean men being recognised as primary carers for their children and receiving property transfers from their wives instead of the other way around - what is so unfair about that?  Sauce for the goose can be sauce for the gander too.


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1 comment:

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