Cohabiting rights bad for women, says family law chief

Baroness Deech

Laying down the law: Baroness Deech says a 'divorce' law for cohabiting couples would degrade relationships

A ‘divorce' law for cohabiting couples would harm children and strip couples of their right to live as they wish, a leading family lawyer has said.

It would also deal a blow to feminism and provide a bonanza for lawyers as couples look to grab a share of each other’s wealth, according to Baroness Deech.

The Law Commission, the Government’s legal advisory body, has recommended that former live-in partners should be made to pay maintenance in the same way as divorcees if there are children from the relationship or if the couple have been living together for two years.

However, Lady Deech, who is head of the barristers’ regulator, the Bar Standards Board, warned that such a law would invite blackmail and bullying from former partners.

She added it ‘would be a windfall for lawyers but for no one else except the gold digger’.

Labour is thought likely to bring in the law if it wins another term and Tory leaders are also sympathetic to the idea.

But Lady Deech, 66, said in a lecture at Gresham College: ‘Women do not need and ought not to require to be kept by men after their relationship has come to an end.’

She added that the law ‘retards the emancipation of women’ and ‘degrades the relationship’.

She also pointed out that couples who choose to live together without ties would be forced by law to accept a commitment similar to marriage, denying them a free choice.

The law would also hinder the chance of a stable environment in which to raise children, she said.

‘The best thing for children, as we have seen from the statistics, is to live with two married parents. The construction of a forced law of cohabitation may deter more men from making any commitment at all.

‘We ought not to risk adding to the number of one-parent families by encouraging men to walk out before the threshold qualifying period, say two years, in order to avoid financial liability.’

Lady Deech has previously insisted women should not expect to marry for money, nor should divorced wives be able to live on payments from former husbands.

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