The recent decision of the Supreme Court in Gow v Grant  UKSC 29 has refocused our attention on the contentious debate surrounding financial rights for cohabitants in England and Wales. The decision reversed the judgment of the Scottish appeal courts who had found against the appellant. Lady Hale took the opportunity in the course of her judgment to contrast Scottish and English law and criticised the Government in England and Wales for its failure to adopt recommendations made by the Law Commission in 2007 to give cohabitants the right to claim a financial remedy after relationship breakdown. There has been frequent criticism from academics and practitioners on the Government's failure to grant cohabitant's such rights but the views of members of the judiciary have been less clear and support far more limited making this level of support from the Supreme Court highly significant. The case shows how differently a couple will be treated by the law on the breakdown of cohabitation in Scotland to that in England and Wales. There is much to reflect on for supporters of the introduction of legislation granting rights to cohabitants in England and Wales but should serve to allay many of the fears of its critics that cohabitants will be treated the same as divorcing couples and civil partners.
The full version of this article appears in the December 2012 issue of Family Law.