Unmarried couples rights / Cohabitation agreements
Many couples choose to live together without getting married. Married couples (or civil partnerships for gay/same sex couples) are afforded a number of legal rights under English law which are not extended to cohabiting unmarried couples.
It is important to understand what your legal position is if you were to separate from your partner in these circumstances.
Many people believe that they have certain implied rights by being a "common law wife" or "common law husband". Unfortunately the idea of a common law partner has no legal recognition in England and is effectively a myth.
The law treats you as separate individuals. This means that if your relationship with your partner were to break down, depending on legal ownership, you may have no entitlement to a share of the property you live in and/or other financial assets.
For many couples the main asset they own is the family home. It is not uncommon for ownership of a home to be in the sole name of one partner, although often the other partner will have contributed financially to that home either by means of deposit, mortgage payments or paying for improvements.
In these circumstances, you may need solicitor representation to negotiate a settlement with your ex-partner. If necessary, court proceedings may need to be issued for you to establish a proper share of the property. This can be done in a number of ways, including:
- showing that you had an agreement with your partner about how assets would be divided on separation (this may be in writing or a verbal promise, if it can be proven)
- financial records indicating that you made a significant contribution to the property
Achieving a settlement through the court can be difficult and requires specialist advice. Our family legal team have extensive experience in representing unmarried partners and we will be happy to discuss your situation. Contact us for a free initial consultation.
One way of avoiding potential disputes later on is to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement with your partner. A Cohabitation Agreement is effectively a contract which you both sign which sets out how assets will be divided in the event of you separating. In it you can state who owns what and, for assets which are jointly owned, you can state how they should be divided and in what proportion.
Other measures can be taken to protect yourselves in the event of separation or death, including ensuring that jointly owned property is owned in the most beneficial manner (joint tenants or tenants in common for specified shares), and also by both of you making Wills. This is very important for unmarried couples.
Contact us for more information in all these areas.
Unmarried couples and rights over children
When a couple separates, arrangements for the children have to be decided upon, including who they will live with and what contact they will have with the other parent.
This can be more complex for unmarried couples as some fathers will not automatically have parental responsibility.
Parental responsibility is the legal phrase used to define who has the rights and obligations to make decisions which affect the child's life. For more information on this, see our page on unmarried father's rights.
Financial arrangements also need to be dealt with including matters such as child maintenance. For more information on all these areas, see our page on child residence, contact and maintenance.
Our specialist team of family solicitors have extensive experience in all these areas. Contact us for more information, or to arrange a consultation.
Our team of family solicitors comprises Resolution Accredited Specialists, Collaboratively trained lawyers and members of the Law Society's Children Panel.