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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Milk For Free? Answer: Cuz It Ain't Free!

Live-in lovers break up... then pay up: Court hearings boom for unmarried couples
By Tamara Cohen

Couples who break up following a live-in relationship are paying tens of thousands of pounds in settlements to their former partners.

A new phenomenon of ‘break-up payments’ is increasingly common because more and more couples are living together for several years without marrying.

When a marriage collapses, a spouse is usually entitled to half the couple’s assets, but for cohabitees the legalities can be a minefield.

Law firm Pannone has reported a 40 per cent rise in these payments in the past five years, claiming people are taking advantage of the uncertain legal status of unmarried couples to issue ‘nuisance’ demands.

Some people were willing to pay up to £100,000 to former partners to avoid lengthy legal action which can last up to 18 months, it said.

Recent actions have involved custody of children, jointly owned property, bank accounts and even pets.

There are 2.3million cohabiting couples and the number is expected to double in the next 25 years. One in four children is born to cohabitees.

Vicki McLynn, a senior associate at Pannone, suggested the problem was partly due to such disputes being dealt with using property rather than family law, as no legislation had yet been passed making clear the rights of unmarried partners when they split up.

She said: ‘It can ultimately be a case of “he said, she said” – one partner’s ability to be more convincing than the other in court can be crucial in determining how cases are settled.

‘Given that element of risk and the assets at stake, many family and litigation lawyers in our firm and elsewhere are seeing clients wanting to pay up to end the matter.’

Unmarried couple Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy split after five years together. They are not thought to have sought settlements from each other

In 2007, the Law Commission published a series of recommendations for the government following a review of the rights of unmarried couples. It concluded that the ‘unclear’ current law made for ‘unfair’ outcomes.

The commission urged a series of reforms including legislation enabling unmarried men or women who had lived together for at least two years to make a claim against their ex-partner. The recommendations have so far not been acted upon.

Miss McLynn suggested that while some disputes involved individuals who had genuinely made contributions to building up joint assets, others featured demands which could best be described as ‘nuisance’.

She said: ‘We have seen instances in which people have issued demands to complicate their exes’ new relationships.’

Earlier this year, family law firms reported a 15 per cent rise in the number of cohabiting clients seeking advice on relationship breakdown as a result of the recession.

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