Unmarried Couples Rights
In these circumstances it is very important to realise that the legal rights afforded to cohabiting partners are very different from those of married couples.
What are the rights of cohabiting couples?
It is a popular misconception that if a couple live together they will gain certain rights by being a ‘common law wife’ or ‘common law husband’. There is no basis in English law for this. There is no such thing as a ‘common law wife’ or husband.
Finances of cohabiting couples
The law treats unmarried couples as two separate individuals. This means that any assets such as bank accounts, savings or investments will remain in the ownership of whoever’s name they are in. Assets held in joint names will generally be divided equally unless there is clear evidence that they have agreed something else.
Unlike a married couple, you cannot usually claim ongoing financial maintenance from a partner in the same way that a married person may be able to claim spousal maintenance.
If there are children from the relationship, the parent the children live with will be able to claim child support maintenance for the children.
Property of cohabiting couples
It is common for unmarried couples to own a home together. If the property is held in joint names then the asset will usually be divided equally between the couple unless there is clear evidence that they have agreed something else. . On separation, one person will usually buy the other out of the property by paying for the half share of the equity in the property and usually take on the outstanding mortgage. If this is not possible then the property will have to be sold so that each partner can retrieve his or her share of the asset.
If the property is held in the sole name of one partner, for example if they already owned the home before the couple got together, then the situation can be more complex. The starting point in this situation is that the person whose name the property is in will retain full ownership.
The complexity arises when the person whose name the property is not held in has contributed financially to the property by means of mortgage payments, purchase deposit or paying for improvements to the property. In some cases there may have been some form of formal or informal agreement between the couple that the property was intended to be jointly owned even though the legalities of changing the property title were not undertaken.
If this is the case then it will be up to you, along with your solicitor, to justify that you are entitled to a share of the property. This will often involve going to court.
This is a specialist area of law which requires a family solicitor with experience of this type of situation. Please contact us for a consultation where we can assess your circumstances and advise you as to a possible way forward.
Children of cohabiting couples
The most important issue to resolve when a couple separate is that of who the children will live with and when they will have contact with the other parent.
Of course it is important for both parents to have regular and substantial content with their children, but in cases of unmarried couples the rights, in particular of fathers can be more complex.
Two members of our Family law team are members of Resolution.
Members of Resolution are required to follow the Resolution code of practice which commits family lawyers to resolving disputes in a non-confrontational way, preserving people’s dignity and encouraging agreements.