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What should happen when equal sharing does not lead to equality?

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 says that when people in a relationship separate, they should each get an equal share of the property connected with that relationship.

But equal sharing will not always mean that partners leave the relationship on an equal footing.

In some relationships, the partners take on different roles, which can leave one of them financially worse off. One partner may care for children and the home while the other continues in paid work. Or one partner might stop studying and work in a low-paying job to support the other partner’s study or training.

When the relationship ends, one partner will continue to enjoy the benefits of a better career. The other partner will not have the same advantages because he or she has sacrificed work or study opportunities.

Don and Nari
Don and Nari marry. They are 20 years old. Don is training to be a pilot. Nari works as a junior manager.

Two years later, Don and Nari have their first child. Nari leaves work to care for the child.

Over the next 15 years, Don and Nari have two more children. Don qualifies as a pilot and gets promoted to flying international routes. Nari is a full-time mum because Don is frequently away.

When Don and Nari’s youngest child turns 16, they separate. Don continues to work as a pilot. He earns a large salary. He buys a new house straight away. He continues to enjoy a very good lifestyle. Nari goes back to work at the bank, but she earns little because she does not have much work experience. Nari rents a house because she is not confident she can maintain mortgage payments. Don and Nari’s children also come to live with Nari which adds extra financial pressure.

If Don and Nari divide their relationship property equally, they will not be on an equal footing.

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 tries to address situations where the partners’ income and living standards are very different because of the way they took on different roles during the relationship. The Act says a court can order the partner with the better income and living standards to pay compensation to the other partner.

There are several problems with a court’s power to award compensation. Compensation is difficult to claim and the purpose of the compensation is unclear.

Learn more about the problems with the law.

The law can be better. We have some suggestions. We want to know what you think about them.

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