The number of people finding this blog by using the search string "Stack v Dowden" since I posted about the case a couple of days ago suggests to me a huge desire amongst family lawyers for some guidance upon resolving cohabitees' property disputes.
When so many people choose to cohabit rather than marry, is it satisfactory that we should have to rely upon a succession of (sometimes contradictory) court decisions to enable us to advise our clients? Surely the time has come for Parliament to properly codify the property rights of cohabitants upon relationship breakdown, in a similar way to the rights of spouses upon marriage breakdown?
As I have mentioned before, Resolution suggests that if a couple have been together for two years or more then they should take some responsibility for each other’s welfare when their relationship ends. Until that time, strict property rules could apply, although it would be helpful if, as Baroness Hale suggested in Stack v Dowden, the Land Registry made it mandatory for the Transfer document to contain a declaration setting out how the transferees are to hold the property. Of course, any major change in cohabitees' property rights should be accompanied by a publicity campaign to make the public aware of the new law.
There has been much discussion about changing the law. Let's hope that, when it's published in August, the Law Commission's final report will create the impetus for change to actually happen.