Posted by Patrick Hart, Partner
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Senior Family Court Judge calls for a review of the law relating to cohabitees and to fault-based divorce
The President of the Family Court has said that the law must be changed to finally recognise the rights of cohabiting couples.
In a speech at Bangor University, Sir James Munby said that despite recommendations from the Law Commission, the Government had failed to act.
However, he believes it is “inconceivable” that the existing arrangements for cohabitees will continue as they are, and that the increasing number of unmarried couples living together would make change inevitable.
“If a marriage is terminated by divorce the court has power to redistribute the matrimonial assets between the spouses,” he said.
“There is no such relief for cohabitants when their relationship breaks down, however long the relationship has lasted. This is an injustice which has been recognised as long as I have been in the law. Reform is desperately needed – has been desperately needed for at least forty years.”
Lord Justice Munby argued that divorce law too would have to be adapted to meet the needs of the 21st century, going as far as to suggest that there may be occasions when couples should not have to go to court to be granted a divorce.
He has questioned whether the time has now come to legislate to remove all concepts of fault as a basis for divorce. Currently, if you wish to petition for divorce, the court has to be satisfied that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage based on one of five set of facts namely unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion, 2 years’ separation and consent of the other party or 5 years’ separation.
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