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Valentine’s Day – a family law perspective

Epilepsy, the plague and beekeeping are unlikely to be the first things which come to mind when thinking about Saint Valentine. 

More commonly, however, he is known as the patron saint of lovers, engaged couples and happy marriages, with his legacy celebrated annually on February 14th.

Of course, not everyone buys into the concept of Valentine’s Day. For those who do, it can present a range of issues.  Some of the most common of these and their connection to family law are explored below.

The engagement

Perhaps one of the most momentous undertakings which someone can give, namely the ‘proposal’, is a common occurrence on Valentine’s Day.   Although a proposal alone does not change a couple’s legal rights and responsibilities, once they embark upon the next stage, i.e. marriage or entering into a civil partnership, there are various legal implications which are useful for them to be aware of. 

In Scotland, the Family Law (Scotland) Act 1985 governs how a couple’s assets and liabilities should be dealt with upon separation.  Whilst the consideration of who will get what if a relationship comes to an end is perhaps not at the forefront of parties’ minds who are starting a new chapter in their lives together, it is, without doubt, the sensible and pragmatic approach. Finding out about the particulars of how the law on financial provision will affect them can often leave those who are facing divorce or dissolution wishing they had taken preventative steps before getting married or entering into a civil partnership.  To safeguard one’s assets, it is possible to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement, whereby a couple’s individual assets can be protected should the worst happen.  It also ensures that if they were to separate, that financial matters would be dealt with in the manner the couple had both agreed and consented to.


A newly engaged couple may also decide to start living together.  Again, this decision, once realised, results in a shift in terms of the associated legal implications should they separate at a later date.  Although the legislation in Scots law for separated couples who were previously cohabitants is very different and much less well-established than that which deals with separated spouses or civil partners, it is, nonetheless, possible for a cohabitant to make a financial claim upon the other following separation.  For cohabitants wishing to protect their assets, a cohabitation agreement can be entered into.  As with pre-nuptial agreements, agreements for cohabitants can stipulate the couple’s wishes and offer protection should they decide to end the cohabitation.

The breakup

A perhaps too familiar outcome following Valentine’s Day is the potential for a relationship to break down, so much so that the term “The Valentine’s Effect” is now widely recognised.  This refers to the tendency for Valentine's Day to act as a catalyst for an increase in people seeking divorce or, more generally, a spike in relationship break-ups.  Whilst there is no real evidence that Valentine's Day will negatively affect relationships that are functioning well, there is some support for the hypothesis that it can trigger the likelihood of breakups in relationships that are already experiencing difficulties. Of course, Valentine’s Day falls not too far after the Christmas period, which can be a particularly trying time for couples and families, and in some cases, February 14th may be the final straw to break the camel’s back.

If you find yourself in a situation whereby Valentine’s Day has changed your relationship status, either for the better or for the worse, the family law team at Harper Macleod can assist you to better understand your legal position and reach a decision on how best to move forward.


family law