The laws surrounding cohabiting, unmarried couples have been raised once more this year, following the announcement of a highly anticipated landmark ruling in the British law courts. In relation to the Jones V Kernott trial dating back to May 2011, the judges announced a final ruling, which sadly did very little to make sense of the laws in relation to unmarried couples.
In the Jones vs. Kernott case, a couple purchased a property and had two children there. Their relationship broke down and Mr. Kernott then moved out, purchasing a property of his own with the aid of a policy that the couple agreed to cash in after they had tried and failed to sell their home. Ms. Jones then remained in the family home, taking care of the children and paying the mortgage alone. Fourteen years later, her former partner returned this time asking for 50 per cent of the value of the property. In its final ruling, the supreme court found in favour of Ms. Jones and Mr. Kernott had to make do with 10 per cent of the propertys value. Whereas this ruling seems fair, the significant issue with this case was that this was the last of four expensive court battles undergone in an attempt and clear up this single issue, each of the court cases reaching a differing ruling each time. And this was all due to the fact that former partners were not married.
Problems like these have turned into a more pressing issue over the past decade due to the increasing trend in couples opting to cohabit but not marry. There is also the factor of rising house values to consider and former partners often end up in legal disputes concerning significant sums of money and the law as it stands is simply not concise enough for couples to make sense of where they stand in legal terms.
The common misconception is that there is in the courts such a thing as Common Law, which means that if a cohabiting couple have been living together for X amount of years then the law automatically treats the partners as if they are a legally married couple. Not so. There is in fact no such thing in British law. When it comes to arguments over property, finances and assets, the British law courts cannot simply share things out in as fair a manner as they possibly can, as they can with couple who are legally married. With unmarried couples, they can only share things out in terms of who can legally be shown to own them and this often results in rulings that are far from fair
This is an area of British law that needs desperately to be reformed for for modern living arrangements. However, the current government let it be known in September last year that does not plan to do so during this parliament.