President of the Family Division rues inaction on family law reforms

In a speech delivered at the Law School, University of Edinburgh last month, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has criticised the failure to progress reform in very specific areas of family law. He highlighted cohabitants’ rights, no-fault divorce, financial relief after divorce, access to and reporting of family cases and the cross-examination in person by alleged perpetrators of domestic violence of their alleged victims.

On cohabitants’ right he said, “The frequency of the occasions on which the problem has been considered by the House of Lords and, more recently, the Supreme Court over the best part of 50 years, has demonstrated that, whatever the degree of judicial ingenuity, neither the common law nor equity is capable of producing an effective remedy. Reform is desperately needed.” He added that such reform is “inevitable“.

Many people still believe in the myth of a common law marriage, the idea that if two people have lived together as a couple for a considerable period of time they will have similar rights on separation to those who have married and are divorcing. This is not the case as cohabiting couples who separate are not entitled to seek financial support from each other and do not have any claim over the other’s pension contributions. The law surrounding how cohabiting couples divide their assets on separation is much more limited when compared to the law followed by a married couple on divorce.

For anyone experiencing the breakdown of a relationship, regardless of whether you are married or not, it is important to seek independent legal advice from an expert as soon as possible. At Barker Gotelee our family department can offer a consultation in a safe and confidential environment to discuss any issues surrounding the breakdown of a relationship.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

Suffolk Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email