The Rights of Unmarried Couples following Gow –v- Grant

The rights of couples who live together in Scotland without being married were clarified by the Supreme Court earlier last month in the case of Mrs Gow –v- Mr Grant.

Mrs Gow moved in with Mr Grant in 2003. He owned the house they lived in and Mrs Gow sold her flat in Edinburgh, spending the proceeds on their joint activities.

They separated in 2008. Upon separation, Mrs Gow did not have a home, whereas Mr Grant still had a home which had increased in value and therefore the Supreme Court said that Mrs Gow should be compensated for that. Mrs Gow had to move into rented accommodation having left Mr Grant’s home, but if she had kept her flat it would have gained more than £30,000 in value and been a home for her to live in.

She wanted that disadvantage paid by Mr Grant but the appeal court rejected her claim. She then took the matter to the Supreme Court and, in July 2012, the Supreme Court overturned the decision by the Court of Session in Edinburgh and ordered that Mr Grant should pay Mrs Gow the sum of £39,500. Most of the sum awarded to Mrs Gow reflected the value by which the flat would have gone up had she not sold it.

The right to compensation was introduced for unmarried couples in Scotland in section 8 of their Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006. The six year old Act gives individuals the right to claim for any economic disadvantage they suffered during the relationship.

Lady Hale indicated that those cohabiting in England and Wales ought to enjoy the same legal protection as those in Scotland and said that there were ‘lessons to be learnt’. She commented that there was a need for a similar remedy south of the border. ‘It does not impose upon unmarried couples the responsibilities of marriage, but redresses the gains and losses flowing from their relationship’, she said.

Steven Kirwan, Chairman of Resolution, which represents 6,500 family lawyers, welcomed Lady Hale’s comments. He told the Times that ‘The situation for people who live together in England and Wales more often than not created injustice and hardship, and our current law fails to reflect the way people are choosing to live their lives. Sadly, children can often be affected.’

Ministers in Westminster have delayed implementation of reform in England and Wales, which has been recommended by the Law Commission.

Satvinder Sokhal