Written evidence from Simon Watson [HAB0278]
1. Reason for submission. The “sexual revolution” that has been going on for my lifetime quite obviously hasn’t provided folk with the benefits expected of it and this particular proposed fix seems likely to make things worse, not better, except for lawyers.
2. It must come as a shock when a relationship breaks down to discover that certain legal protections (that were assumed or hoped to exist) turn out to be illusory. The right solution to that is publicity and education – in the same way that the solution to the dangers of cliff-top paths in areas of outstanding natural beauty is signage, not the destruction of the cliff.
3. I expect that marriage or civil partnership is an available choice for most cohabiting partners and when a choice is available, not opting for it is a decision in itself. Those who cohabit without a “formal relationship” do that because they don’t want to enter the formal relationship, even if they wouldn’t necessarily express it that way to each other. If the formal relationship is unavailable to a few then I expect that the cohabitees’ equivalent of a “pre-nup” exists and the cohabitees are certainly not impeded from leaving property to each other in a will.
4. It is extremely clear-cut at what point a marriage or civil partnership begins and indeed when it ends. By contrast, relationships might begin by degrees and those in a relationship might move in and out of the same property at different times depending on work, rent costs, arguments etc – which will make it very difficult to assess (for example) what contribution each has made to “assets of the relationship”. I doubt that two people who spend the night together for the first time are intending up front to share their finances (even if it might have been prudent for them to think that through first) and if we legislate for that then instead of cohabitees having a legal shock on break-up, we will have cohabitees having a legal shock on “hook-up”. If rights are not acquired after the first shared night, will the legislation define how many shared nights are required to count as cohabiting and then what happens if the couple disagree on the count?
5. It is evidently really quite hard for the law to interact “accurately” with peoples’ fluid private lives, I would hope that would be tragically evident enough with the outcome of rape allegations in police investigations and actual court cases so perhaps if there is energy and enthusiasm for law-making, it should be expended in that area.
6. I am sure we agree that the most important rights at a relationship break-up are those of the children involved. Statistics tell us that the children of a married relationship are less likely to experience break-up and therefore if we truly care, we will want to promote marriage as the way forwards which is most likely to protect both the children and the home (where we are thinking of this as a shared asset).