Cohabiting couples deserve same property rights as marrieds, says appeal court

Dated:

An appeal court judge has told a woman she has fallen foul of a legal system that is weighted against non-married couples whose relationships fall apart.

Lord Justice Toulson said that women are frequently left with nothing after separating from partners with whom they have been cohabiting.

Hearing a case involving Pamela Curran and Brian Collins, Lord Justice Toulson was told by Ms Curran, 55, that she had been "stripped of everything" after parting from Mr Collins, 52.

The couple had been dating since they were teenagers and cohabiting since the late 1970s. They also worked together at The Havens, Mr Collins' kennel business near Ashford, Kent, which he bought as a sole trader in 2007. They split in 2010.

At that time, Mr Collins asserted the couple had only been permanently living together for 8 years. A county court judge subsequently ruled that Ms Curran was not entitled to any share in the business or in the property in which they had lived, and she was effectively made penniless.

Allowing Ms Curran to appeal against the 2010 decision, Lord Justice Toulson said she was the victim of laws which give negligible protection to non-married couples whose relationships break down.

"The appellant found herself in the classic position of a woman jilted in her early 50s, having very much made her life with the respondent for over 30 years," the judge said.

"The law of property can be harsh on people, usually women, in that situation. Bluntly, the law remains unfair to people in the appellant's position, but the judge was constrained to apply the law as it is."

Saying she had "trusted" in her partner, Ms Curran believed she would be given a "fair share" of the property and business, which together were worth £750,000, if they ever split up.

"I was absolutely stripped of everything," she said. "The person you see sitting here today is not the person I was, because I have been destroyed."

Acknowledging that judges should not be personally affected by the cases they hear and must apply the law, Lod Judge Toulson said: "It was extremely difficult not to be affected by a sense that the appellant has, in truth, been treated unfairly."

"She describes herself as a nobody, but with a profound sense that what's happened was not just."

The judge noted that although reforms to property law had been tabled by the Law Commission in 2007, they had since been rejected by the Coalition.

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