Judge brands property law unfair on cohabiting couples

Cohabitation|Family Law|News|January 24th 2013

A senior judge has branded property laws “harsh” and “unfair” on cohabiting couples.

Pamela Curran told the Court of Appeal that she was “absolutely stripped of everything” when a 30 year relationship ended and a court ruled that she had no right to a share in the couple’s home or her former partner’s business as they were unmarried.

Ms Curran, 55, had been involved with Brian Collins, 52, since the 1970s, when both were teenagers. Tthe couple worked together in a kennels and cattery business near Ashford in Kent. But the relationship ended in 2010.

A tearful Ms Curran told the court that she had trusted her former partner to provide for her after working hard to build up the business.

“The person you see sitting here today is not the person I was, because I have been destroyed.”

The couple’s home and kennels/ cattery business were bought for a combined total of £750,000 in 2007 in Mr Collins’ sole name.

Lord Justice Toulson gave her permission to appeal the ruling, the Telegraph reports, saying:

“Sadly, the appellant found herself in the classic position of a woman jilted in her early 50s, having very much made her life with the respondent for over 30 years. The law of property can be harsh on people, usually women, in that situation. Bluntly, the law remains unfair to people in the appellant’s position, but the judge was constrained to apply the law as it is.”

He noted that the government had declined to implement a 2007 report from the Law Commission recommending that property laws be reformed to give cohabiting couples the same rights to a share in property as married ones.

Lord Justice Toulson added: “Judges ought not to be affected by human sympathies, they must apply the law as they see it. It was extremely difficult not to be affected by a sense that the appellant has, in truth, been treated unfairly. [Ms Curran] describes herself as a nobody, but with a profound sense that what’s happened was not just.”

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. JamesB says:

    Another casualty in the war of the sexes. Perhaps all those modernising anti men marriage laws were not such a good idea after all. I am making a lot of assumptions here, but I do agree with the Judge that it is not right. I just want to point to the cause, not being the lack of a cohabitation law, but the lack of fair divorce laws.

  2. Tracy W says:

    This is odd. The law offers plenty of options to the Ms Currans of this world to have protected herself from the start. Ms Curran and Mr Collins could have set up a company to own the business, each with a 50% shareholding and put both of their names on the house deed. Or it sounds quite like Ms Curran and Mr Collins could have gotten married to each other. Ms Curran didn’t take advantage of any of those legal options, and paid the price for her lack of legal foresight. Is that any more unfair than someone who goes into business with a platonic partner, without bothering with a contract, and loses out as a result?

  3. sandra allen says:

    Total sympathy. I had a 25 year “co-habit” relationship, gave up a career, sold my share of a house, accommodated four step children (from his 2 previous “marriages”), worked alongside him, dealt with accountants and solicitors The relationship became controlling once our daughter was born and progressively got worse. I continued to run the house and businesses with him. I got out when my daughter was 18, he was listed in the Who’s Who Directory as a multi millionaire. At the age of 49 my parents helped me to rent a house, I had nothing. I cannot afford to take him on, legal aid would be of no use in this case. I took advice and was told basically to try and rebuild my life. He became a tax exile.
    Its easy to sit and read and say well you should of done this and that, when you talk to people so many are of the opinion still that common law wife operates in the UK, Pamela Curran and myself were if “lifetime” relationships, and we learnt the hard way. If you are reading this now then you are concerned, my advice, do something, if your partner is genuine and loving and trusting and the best thing since sliced bread , then there shouldn’t be a problem putting it in writing should there !

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