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Milestone tax breaks for married couples urged

Milestone tax breaks for married couples urged

In a bid to encourage family stability, a retired judge has called for married couples to be given additional tax breaks after they pass landmark wedding anniversaries.

Sir Paul Coleridge has argued that the law should not be changed to give cohabiting couples rights similar to marriage but rather that the system should continue to recognize the importance of marriage, and reward spouses that stay together and therefore save taxpayer money.

“Send a message to couples to stay together”

Sir Paul Coleridge is a former High Court family judge, who recently retired in order to focus on promoting the institution of marriage through his think-tank, The Marriage Foundation. In a debate jointly organized by the Financial Times and his foundation, Coleridge – who has been criticized for his staunch, public support for marriage – said that married couples should be rewarded for staying together.

In dismissing the relatively small tax break for married couples that is currently offered by the Coalition as “inadequate”, Sir Coleridge questioned “why does the Government not support people by incentivizing sticking it out?”

He argued that increasing the tax allowance for couples at regular, significant intervals – such as when a couple reaches their fifth, tenth and twentieth wedding anniversaries – would do two things:

“It would make clear staying together does not cost the state a penny while splitting up does, and it would send a message to couples to stay together.”

Coleridge suggested that tax benefits have the potential to sway spouses who are considering a separation, saying “couples who were on the point of breaking up would think that if they could stick it out for another two years or so there would be money in it for them” and that the knowledge that “if they were together for five years their tax allowances would get bigger, and it would get bigger still after ten years” would be significantly persuasive. He also suggested that the tax breaks could be staged or even linked to the arrival of children.

“Marriage is a public commitment that impacts on stability”

Sir Paul has also recently withdrawn his support for a reform of the law to see cohabiting couples awarded similar rights to those who have married.

Many judges have called for unmarried couples to have legal entitlements, to avoid women being left penniless after the breakdown of a long-term live in relationship. However, Sir Coleridge has said that while he initially supported the calls for reform, he now considers them to be naive. He said such legal rights would constitute an official approval of cohabitation and stated the need to “look at the bigger picture”.

Basing his concern on the need for family stability, Sir Paul pointed to a report from the Marriage Foundation. Analysing figures from the Office for National Statistics, the think tank concluded that cohabiting couples who have children are twice as likely to split up than those parents who have married.

However, others have remained resolute in their calls for reform, including the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby. Munby called the lack of legal protection for cohabitees “an injustice”, saying “reform is desperately needed” to assist the three million cohabiting couples currently in the country.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of family law, are considering divorce proceedings or a trial separation, or want to draw up a pre or post-nuptial agreement, call our mediation, divorce and family dispute resolution solicitors in absolute confidence on 01494 790058 or 01494 790047. Alternatively, email us at familylaw@ibblaw.co.uk.

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