As has been covered in this blog previously, there is no such thing as Common Law Marriage. Ideas that somehow, by living together as man and wife, partners acquire the same legal rights as married couples is a total myth, and of course this can lead to some unfair outcomes in the event that a couple do separate after many years without ever having married.
Cohabitants can, in some circumstances acquire a legal interest in the property in which the coupe have lived, however such entitlements arise out of Property Law principles, rather than a Family Law one, something many people find surprising.
The significant discrepancy in many ways means that the law as it stands is out of date as compared to modern living practices, where of course it is common for couples to live together without getting married, something that when the current Matrimonial Property Law was drafted, was extremely unusual.
A number of papers today report that Dragana Brown, the partner of a celebrity holistic health therapist, is seeking to mount a legal challenge to the law as it currently stands, and is seeking a 'Common Law Divorce' payout, including not only a share of the home in which they lived as a couple (which has, according to reports, always been in the sole name of Mr Brown) but also a share of other properties, his classic car collection and royalties from the sales of the books he wrote and sold during their relationship. It is said that she is effectively claiming half of Mr Brown's wealth, something of course not uncommon in the case of a normal Divorce settlement following a long marriage.
It is reported that Ms Brown, like many other women, had always been under the illusion that Common Law Marriage exists and protects people in her position. She is reported as stating that even if unsuccessful, she hopes that her case will alert other women in a similar position to the potential problems they face in the event of a Separation, so as to enable them to take action to protect themselves.
As a Family Lawyer, it is difficult to see how Ms. Brown's claim can succeed legally, given the clear position of the law as it stands at present, however we will certainly be watching with interest how the case proceeds. In the meantime, anyone who, like Ms Brown, lives with their partner and is not sure of their rights should the relationship end is advised to seek legal advice, which could help avoid a costly and stressful legal battle should the worst happen.
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