Property laws for cohabiting couples are “unfair” on women who are often left with nothing after separating from their partners, an appeal court judge said on Wednesday.
Miss Curran had been with Brian Collins since the late 1970s and worked with him at his kennels and cattery business
Lord Justice Toulson noted that reforms to the law had been recommended but rejected by the current Government.
He spoke out after hearing the case of Pamela Curran, 55, who said she had been “stripped of everything” after splitting from her partner of more than 30 years.
Miss Curran had been with Brian Collins, 52, since the late 1970s and worked with him at his kennels and cattery business.
But after their relationship ended in 2010, a county court judge ruled that she had no right to a share in the business or the home where they had lived together, effectively leaving her penniless. Mr Collins said they had only begun permanently cohabiting in 2002.
Lord Judge Toulson granted Miss Curran permission to appeal the ruling, telling her she was the victim of laws which offer little legal protection to non-married couples whose relationships break down.
“Sadly, 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,” he 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.”
The Court of Appeal heard that Mr Collins and Miss Curran had begun dating when they were both still teenagers and had remained “an item” until their split in 2010.
They lived and worked together at The Haven, a kennels and cattery business near Ashford, Kent, which was bought in Mr Collins’s sole name in 2007.
Miss Curran said she had “trusted” in her partner and believed that if they ever split up, she would be given a “fair share” of the property and business, purchased for a combined total of £750,000.
She sobbed as she told the court that worked hard to make the business successful but had been left with absolutely nothing to show for it.
“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.”
Lord Judge Toulson said a report published by the Law Commission in 2007 had recommended that current property laws be reformed as they were unfair to those in Miss Curran’s position.
The body wanted to end rules dating back 86 years to give those in cohabiting relationships the same rights as married couples in order to “reflect the growing prevalence and public acceptance of cohabitation”.
However, the current Government announced in 2011 that it had no plans to change the law, particularly as many major reforms to the family justice system were already on the horizon.
Lord Judge Toulson said: “Judges ought not to be affected by human sympathies, they must apply the law as they see it. 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.”
Official results from the 2011 census published earlier this month showed that the number of married people in England and Wales has fallen by 200,000 in a decade while the number of people cohabiting has increased by half.
SOURCE: The Telegraph