Unmarried Couples, Their Property & The Law
The law surrounding the ownership of property for unmarried couples is complex and often uncertain. There are no comparable financial rights to those of married couples and the notion of a "common law spouse" does not exist in English law. If a couple are married and later separate, they can make financial claims against the other using the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act. If, however, a couple live together but are unmarried, they must rely on strict property and trust law principles to establish an interest in any property they share with their partner.
The task of establishing a financial interest is often onerous and cohabitees are particularly vulnerable if they live in a property owned solely by their partner, as the legal presumption is that they have no interest in that property. This is regardless of how long the parties have lived together, so a couple could cohabit for 20 years and, for all intents and purposes, they behave as a married couple but, upon separation, the non-owning party would leave the relationship with no financial interest in the property whatsoever.
The Courts have no power to award unmarried couples with an interest in anything other than real property (land) and so other assets must be divided by agreement or a claim must be brought in the Civil, not Family, Courts.
Children Act matters remain unaffected as applications can still be brought regardless of whether the parties are married. However, a father will automatically obtain Parental Responsibility if he is married to the child's mother, whereas there are other hurdles to jump if not.
This is a particularly complex area and we would urge anyone who has concerns regarding their interest in property or other assets to consult one of our solicitors to establish their rights in the event of separation. If matters are dealt with prior to separation, there is every chance that agreement could be reached to ensure that both parties obtain the share to which they anticipate they should be entitled. If separation has already taken place, it may be more difficult to establish the interest but not impossible. If you would like tailored and specific advice regarding your particular circumstances, please contact one of our family solicitors immediately.
Please contact our Family Law Team by telephone on 01392 209209. If you choose to email, please provide a contact telephone number and we will call you at the earliest opportunity.