Unmarried Couples

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Legal Advice for Unmarried Couples


With more and more people choosing to remain unmarried, it’s more important than ever to truly understand the legal implications of cohabiting, particularly in the event of a dispute or relationship breakdown. No one wants to consider what might happen in the event of a relationship ending, but it pays to be clear about what will happen to your assets, home, and children in the event of a separation.

Many people have heard of the term “common law spouse” and assume that after living together for a number of years, a cohabiting couple will come to have similar legal rights as a married couple. Unfortunately, it’s often not until a relationship breaks down or a partner dies that people discover that the notion of “common law” is a myth that offers no protection. If you separate from your partner, unless you have specifically made provision in a cohabitation agreement, you will not necessarily be entitled to any kind of financial settlement. If you have been living together in a property that is solely in your ex-partner’s name you may find yourself forced to leave, unless you can prove that you have an interest in the property. Disputes of this nature can be costly and complicated to resolve, making an already stressful and upsetting situation worse.

Our family law specialists can offer advice and assistance to couples who find themselves facing disputes or difficulties without the formality of a marriage, civil partnership, or cohabiting agreement. We believe that it is crucial that unmarried couples make informed decisions and receive the best advice available in the face of a relationship breakdown or loss.

If you need advice about your legal rights, contact us today – one of our friendly team will be happy to assess your situation and explain your options.

Unmarried couples and separation

When an unmarried couple separate, as with married couples, most of the disputes that arise concern the fair distribution of money and assets, and issues over custody if children are involved. When a marriage breaks down, the initial assumption is that any assets will be shared 50/50 between both parties; whilst not always the case this is generally the starting point.  For unmarried couples, irrespective of the length of the relationship, there is no equivalent process or automatic claim to the assets or property of the other partner. Each party retains their own money and property, whilst anything owned jointly, including money in joint accounts should be split equally. Where there is any debate or dispute over the ownership of an asset, they are individually assessed according to the applicable law on trusts and property.

In the event of a relationship breakdown it is important to take legal advice promptly to prevent a partner from taking funds out of any joint accounts you share or taking any other action that may unfairly disadvantage you. It is possible to have bank accounts frozen if you are worried that this might happen, but care needs to be taken not to jeopardise any important outgoings such as mortgage or rent payments.

Cohabitation: the law

No matter how long an unmarried couple have been living together, they do not acquire any specific rights. This can lead to financial difficulties in the event of a relationship breakdown or following the death of a partner; unless specific legal provision has been made, there is no automatic legal right to inherit from one another.

Women in particular can find themselves at a significant disadvantage if they have children with a partner that they are not married to; any time that they take out from their career to raise children will not be recognised as a contribution to the relationship in the event of a split.

Disputes over property when cohabitating couples separate can be legally straightforward when there is a cohabitation agreement or other documentation which clearly outlines how any equity in a property should be split. Where this is not the case, finding resolution can be complex, and even more so when only one person is named as the owner of a property.  If you have contributed to a property that you have shared with a partner, either financially or by making improvements to the property, the onus is on you to prove this is the case, either by proving that you have made regular payments towards the mortgage or that you contributed to the initial deposit. You may also be able to show that there was an agreement or promise made by the legal owner of property that you would share in the equity if the relationship breaks down, but this can be difficult where this hasn’t been recorded in writing.

Even where a property is in joint names there can be disputes if one person refuses to leave, or to sell the property. This can cause immense difficulty and can lead people to feel that they are trapped in their domestic situation and unable to move on.

Where an agreement cannot be reached between both parties it may be possible to resolve a dispute by negotiation without having to go to court, although in certain instances this might be unavoidable. Legal disputes of this nature can be complex, and the evidence needed to support a claim towards having a financial interest in a property can be challenging to assemble.

Whatever your circumstances, the experts at Clifford Johnston can help. We can advise you of your rights in regard to selling a jointly owned property, or your options in buying out the other party. We will work hard to find the best course of action available to you, helping you to ensure that your rights and interests are protected.

What happens to children when unmarried couples separate?

When an unmarried couple separate, the best-case scenario would see the parents working out between them how children will be cared and provided for, putting the interests of the child at the forefront. Sadly though, in many instances a couple are unable to agree on the details between themselves and court intervention becomes necessary.  If you find that you need to make an application to the courts for a Child Arrangement Order, one of our legal experts will be able to guide you through the process.

Advice for unmarried couples: safeguarding your interests

There are a number of important actions that you can take to safeguard your financial interests if you are considering cohabiting, buying a property, or starting a family with your partner outside of a marriage or civil partnership.

  • Property ownership – If you are planning to buy a property together, or are moving into a property which is solely owned by one of you, it is important to consider what each person’s contribution will be, and how that will be protected in the event of a break up. If you buy a property jointly, unless otherwise stated, in the event of a breakdown any equity is usually divided equally between both parties. If one person is contributing more to the purchase than the other, you may want to make this clear at the time that the property is registered. This can be done with a trust declaration deed which makes clear what the beneficial interest of each party is in the property, and is conclusive, in the event of a dispute. Alternatively, you could consider a cohabitation agreement.
  • Make a will – If you are not intending to marry or form a civil partnership, we would strongly recommend that you both make a will. You will have no legal right to inherit from one another and without a will in place the surviving partner can find themselves facing legal and financial difficulties.

Whatever your situation, we can offer your advice and practical assistance with drawing up legal agreements and documentation, offering you some peace of mind whatever the future holds.

How Clifford Johnston & Co. can help

At Clifford Johnston we have friendly legal specialists who are experts in advising unmarried couples on a range of issues that affect them. Whether you are looking to safeguard your interests as an unmarried partner in a relationship, you are seeking advice following a relationship breakdown, or need help to resolve a dispute, we have the skills and experience that you need.

Offering clear, informed advice with regard to your cohabitation rights, we are able to help with issues including:

  • disputes in regard to equity, assets and shared homes
  • drawing up a cohabitation agreement, deed of trust or a will
  • parental responsibility and financial provision for children following a relationship breakdown.

Where disputes arise, we will listen carefully, ensuring that we fully understand your circumstances, and will work with you to resolve the issue as quickly and efficiently as possible. We always recommend taking legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity to give us the best chance of assuring that your assets and interests are protected.

Based in Greater Manchester, we work with clients throughout the north west, England and Wales, and we have an excellent reputation for helping our clients to reach the best outcomes available.

Contact Us

Our Family Lawyers in Stockport & Manchester are greatly experienced in helping unmarried couples make informed decisions and receive the best advice available in the face of a relationship breakdown or loss. If you need advice about your legal rights as a non-married couple, contact us today.

With offices in Stockport (Heaton Moor) & Manchester (Burnage), our expert family solicitors are easily accessible. We represent clients not only locally throughout Stockport and Cheshire, Lancashire & Manchester but also across the United Kingdom.  Our Family Lawyers act regularly for clients from across the North West and Cheshire including Altrincham, Hale, Alderley Edge, Wilmslow and Knutsford.

You can count on us to help and guide you whatever your challenge or circumstance.

Need some professional advice?

Do you have any issues that you are worried about? Contact our professional team for a free, no-obligation informal discussion, where we can discuss your particular requirements in greater detail.

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