Couples who live together but do not marry or enter into a Civil Partnership do not currently have the same rights to claim against their former partner on the relationship breakdown as those who have entered into a Marriage or Civil Partnership.
There is no such thing as Common Law Husband and Wife and at present the number of years a couple may have lived together has no legal consequences. Claims cannot be made for provision from pension assets or any other assets apart from possible property claims.
Cohabiting couples are not automatically entitled to anything on the death of the other. Making a Will avoids difficulties for the survivor and will ensure that the deceased’s wishes are put into effect. Couples considering living together can enter into a Cohabitation Agreement governing how their assets would be divided on separation.
Issues can arise about the ownership of property on the breakdown of a relationship.
If a home has been purchased jointly and no specific shares have been set out then the starting point will usually be that each person is entitled equally to the net value of the property. If the house is providing a home for children it may be that any sale of such a property would be put off until the child reaches 18. Where a couple continue to live together and jointly own a property the death of one of the joint owners will lead to the property automatically becoming the property of the survivor.
If shares in the property have been set out then such a Declaration would be enforceable on the relationship breakdown. In such a case the owner of the individual share in the property can leave their share under their Will.
If property is owned by one person in their sole name the only way to show an entitlement to the non-owner is to prove that there was an intention either expressed (from words said) or implied (from actions undertaken) that the owner intended to give the non-owner an interest.
Any disputes about property that cannot be settled are decided by the County Court under The Trusts of Land Act.
If a mortgage or debts are held in joint names, usually both persons named are jointly and severally liable. This includes overdrafts on any joint Bank account. The lender can seek full repayment from one or both borrowers, or, if mortgage payments are missed, repossession of the property.
If debts accrue bankruptcy proceedings may be contemplated. If a joint owner of a property is made bankrupt then the Trustee in Bankruptcy may seek to recover money for the creditors from the bankruptcy assets including any share in such a property.
Debts taken out in a person’s sole name cannot be claimed from the other person even if the debt was taken out for a joint purpose, eg a holiday. The contract of credit is enforceable by the lender only against the named borrower.
If possessions have been purchased jointly any dispute upon ownership would usually be settled in the Small Claims Court.
Maintenance cannot be claimed between adults on a relationship breakdown where they have not married or entered into a civil partnership. Child support may be claim for a child of the relationship, payable up to completion of full time secondary education up to a maximum age of 19.
In certain circumstances a claim can be made to provide capital to provide housing for a child of the relationship. This claim is made under The Children Act. The capital provided under such a claim does not transfer to the carer of the child and would usually be returned to the parent ordered to provide capital at the time that the child reaches the age of 18. If there are children of the relationship or children of this relationship and a prior relationship parents are strongly advised to make a Will to avoid any difficulties on their death.
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