Unmarried Couples Living Together

Unmarried Couples Living Together

The legal position

Many people wrongly assume that if you have lived together for a certain number of years you are “common law husband and wife”, and therefore have the same legal rights as a married couple. This is a myth. There is no such thing as common law husband and wife and couples who separate do not have an automatic claim against the other on a split for maintenance or the other’s partners pension and ownership of property is dealt with very differently to those who are married and divorcing.

  • Many co-habitees are unaware of the legal issues that flow from owning a property in either their sole name or in joint names with their parent.  This issue is especially relevant where one party has provided all or most of the deposit monies.
  • In the event of the death of a partner, there is no automatic claim on the partner’s pension or automatic inheritance
  • Child maintenance can be agreed or if there is a dispute an application may need to be made to the Child Support Agency for a formal asessment

Avoiding Problems

An unmarried couple may wish to ensure certainty in relation to property ownership by entering into a Declaration of Trust which will clearly set out their shares in any property. If an unmarried couple wish to regulate their relationship financially they can enter into a CoHabitation Agreement which will stipulate what will happen to jointly or indivdually owned assets in the event of a separation, what contributions the couple should make towards certain bills and expenses and the mortgage. Couples that intend to marry can enter into a Pre- Nuptial Agreement to protect their assets prior to geting married.

Court Proceedings

If, following the breakdown of a relationship, you are not able to resolve property disputes between you, then it may be necessary for court proceedings to be issued under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996.  This process enables the Court to make declarations as to the ownership of a disputed property and in some cases to order the sale of the property.

Where there are young children of the relationship, it may not be appropriate for the property to be sold and we would advise you as to whether a claim under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 should be made. The Court is able to make awards for property, lump sums and maintenance provision for children.

How we can help

On the breakdown of a relationship couples who are able to continue to communicate may wish to consider mediation as one method of resolving issues.   The process can often be less costly than court proceedings and produce an outcome that is acceptable to both.  Helen Stuart is able to offer mediation.  Contact Helen if you would like to discuss mediation as an option further.

Next Steps

Our Solicitors can advise you if you are planning to live together and/or buy property jointly on the legal measures you can put in place to offer protection and peace of mind for the future or in the event of relationship breakdown.  We offer an initial fixed price interview that our clients find extremely informative and helps to decide the next step.


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