Things have come a long way since 1972 [Cook v Head, The Times, 20 January 1972] when Anthony Scrivener, who died recently, obtained a fairly revolutionary judgment for a ‘mistress’ who had helped to build a bungalow. The Appeal Court found she should be treated in the same way as a wife.  

I once knew a stipendiary who died some years ago and who enjoyed a long friendship with what is now called a sex worker. Quite apart from the commercial aspect of their relationship he would take her out to fashionable London restaurants. Of a Sunday, her rest day, she would cook a leg of lamb for them for lunch. I believe they sometimes went away for short breaks together but the relationship ended when she went back to France.

Had he lived and the relationship continued, he might have been concerned by a case heard recently in Queensland. He would not have been alone. It was extremely worrying from the point of view of men who allow their commercial relations with sex workers to spill over into friendship.

A Gold Coast middle-aged sex worker sued a former client for a chunk of his life savings on the basis that their regular trysts had become much more than a simple business arrangement. It had started out commercially enough – money for sex, tout court. But, as the years rolled by, the pair became so friendly she began treating her favourite client to regular freebies, and sometimes cut him a special weekend discount rate. In return he took her away on a string of holidays, and the lines between business and pleasure became decidedly blurred.  

When, after more than a decade, he finally terminated their arrangement, she applied to the courts for a quarter of his property under the de facto provisions of the Family Law Act. And it was a close call.

The judge found she had made contributions to the union, and their arrangement showed some mutual commitment to a shared life, suggesting a de facto relationship. But in the end, because they had remained financially independent of one another, and socialised together relatively rarely, he ruled the relationship did not fall within the provisions of the act.

James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor