Cohabiting couple treated as married by appeal court

A cohabiting couple who separated after 17 years of living together have been ordered by a court to split proceeds from their shared home as if they had been married.

The ruling could open the way for other unmarried couples to claim equal division of assets if their relationship breaks down, in a similar way to divorce.

Judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that although one partner had paid the mortgage on the house, while the other had contributed to housekeeping costs, the couple’s “unequal contributions” had not mattered as much as their “shared intentions”.

They said that the property had “served as a family home until the breakdown of the relationship”.

The Government recently set aside plans to give cohabiting couples divorce-like legal rights over assets, saying it would await evidence on the impact of similar laws in Scotland.

Critics of the plans said the Government is keen to avoid the compensation boom that could result from such a change, as unmarried couples who live together are far more likely to separate.

At the time, a spokesperson for the think-tank Civitas said: “There is no need and no public demand for a cohabitation law. We have a perfectly good one already, called marriage.”