In the Divorce Corp. movie, a litigator driving by a wedding said “that’s inventory.” What if learning about family court litigation makes people shy about getting married? How can divorce litigators maintain their prosperity? In most jurisdictions around the world, lawyers can still get paid to handle custody and child support litigation between never-married parties. Scotland, however, has an innovative solution that I learned about at the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017.
Unlike France and Germany, the United Kingdom has a family law that varies from region to region. A person who is able to file a lawsuit in Scotland, for example, might not have a claim in neighboring England.
In 2006, Scotland changed its laws so that a person who says that he or she lived with someone else can, within a year “after the day on which the cohabitants cease to cohabit.”, go down to the family court and sue for property division and alimony, just as if the two parties had been married. “Court ruling hits couples who cohabit” (2012 article on litigation following a 6-year relationship with no kids) quotes a lawyer: “People may also not know that there is no minimum period to qualify as cohabiting.”
What can lawyers be paid to argue, and bring witnesses to testify, about? Assuming that no children are involved, at a minimum, the following:
- whether the two litigants ever actually did cohabit
- the date on which they began to cohabit
- the date on which they ceased to cohabit
- what property each owns
- what property is jointly owned
- what income each has been earning
- what income each could have earned in the past
- what income each could earn in the future
- whether or not the plaintiff was disadvantaged by cohabiting with the defendant
- whether the defendant was advantaged financially by cohabiting with the plaintiff
- who supported whom during the cohabitation (because the judge might want to order that relationship to continue post-separation)
[If children are involved, and the defendant earns more than 3000 pounds per week pre-tax, there can be additional litigation on the profitability of the children. The UK government runs a calculator up to 3000 pounds a week of pre-tax income, which results in a tax-free payment of about 300 pounds per week to the parent who wins custody, i.e., roughly 20 percent of the defendant’s after-tax income. Median pre-tax weekly pay for a full-time worker in Scotland is 535 pounds. Therefore the plaintiff who has sex with two high-income partners and obtains custody of the resulting children is guaranteed to have more spending power than the Scot who marries and stays married to a median full-time worker.]
A quick Google search for how the law is being used in practice yielded a story about a defendant who was the part-owner of a plumbing business. He was characterized as a “tycoon” and reference was made to him flying “private aircraft.” It turned out that the “private aircraft” two attorneys were being paid to argue about was a two-seat “SkyRanger” homebuilt (airframe kit: roughly $20,000; I found an “always hangared” already-built example with 870 hours on it for $19,999 on barnstormers.com).
In litigation-oriented societies, I wonder if this Scottish idea will catch on. If the opportunity to litigate is a positive thing for people who were once married, why not for people who once lived together, however briefly?