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Government shelves legal protection plans for cohabiting couples

Date:7 MAR 2008

The Government announced yesterday that it will delay acting on the Law Commission's proposals for the introduction of legal protection for couples who live together.

Bridget Prentice, the Justice Minister, said that the government wanted to wait to see research findings on the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, which came into effect last year. This Act has provisions which are similar in many respects to those which the Commission recommends.

In a written ministerial statement to Parliament Bridget Prentice said: 'The government propose to await the outcome of this research and extrapolate from it the likely cost to this jurisdiction of bringing into effect the scheme proposed by the Law Commission and the likely benefits it will bring. For the time being, therefore, the government will take no further action.'

The decision has been criticised by the association of family lawyers, Resolution.

Jane Craig, a member of Resolution's Cohabitation Committee said: 'The government is seriously out of step with public opinion on this issue if it does not act now. The British Social Attitudes Survey revealed that nine out of ten people think that a cohabiting partner should have a right to financial provision if their relationship is a long-term one, includes children and has involved prioritising one partner's career over the others.

'The present law creates real injustice for many people. Our members frequently see people who face financial hardship and even homelessness as a result of the current law. Any further delay inevitably means further injustice for some people

'The Government must and should act now to ensure an end to the injustices and vulnerability created by the present law,' she added.

Findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey published by the National Centre for Social Research in January 2008 back the case for urgent reform of the law.

The British Social Attitudes Survey revealed widespread confusion over what protection couples that live together have under the law, with 51 per cent of people still believing wrongly that cohabiting couples have rights as 'common law' spouses.