Monday 7 April 2014

How to marry your own daughter

Now that marriage is a notarial contract of cohabitation recogized across the EU, it is time to look at the other out-moded and frankly offensive restrictions on whom one can register as a partner. It is ludicrous that one can register someone else's son or daughter and thereby pass one's wealth free of inheritance tax to them, but not your own child. If two people love each other, why shouldn't they get married?

This does not mean incest is going to be legalized. Sex between certain categories of blood relative remains a crime  under s.64 and 65 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.   It may be this needs to be revised too but for the moment, let that obtain.   Sex is no longer a required or even assumed ingredient of what it means to have a notarial contract of cohabitation, so that need not detain us.  Neither is it strictly necessary to cohabit.  The declared status still stands, even if you do not spend much time in the same country as each other.

The concern here is with grown children who take on the responsibilities of a partner and yet are shut out from any of the benefits of that status.

It is unfair for example, that an aging gay son who has spent many years looking after his mother should be obliged to pay tax (if the estate exceeds the IHT threshold) just because he has stepped in to the role that his late father might have otherwise performed.   He can register a contract with  the old man next door, he could always have married the old lady next door,  he could become the spouse of the son or daughter next door, but not be his own dear old Mum's recognized partner, although he already is in every relevant sense.  Where is the justice in that?

Or, consider aging siblings who have to make complicated wills, living together but never being able to take advantage of the same tax arrangements as any other more distantly related couples. Why can't you marry your brother if you have ended up as his carer?

At the moment you cannot register as the partner of more than one person at a time, but since the Netherlands leads the way in allowing notarial contracts of cohabitation to apply to to multiple signatories, that could also change.  The old bigamy laws must give way to new modes of inheritance whereby a parent can register as the partner of several children, friends, relatives etc. Why can't you have more than one partner?  You can in commercial law.

Alternatively, abolish inheritance tax as it is incompatible with the primacy of the notarial contract of partnership. 

 The Telegraph is also interested in this,. They look at in the light of the current legal situation  but cannot face the logic of marrying one's own children. 

If two men can get married, it makes no difference which two men it is, or if it is more than two of them.