Unmarried Couples - Know Your Rights

It is increasingly common for couples to live together without getting married. Unmarried couples do not have the same rights as married couples to make financial claims against each other when separating, but they should be aware that they can sometimes make a claim against property which is either jointly owned or even owned solely by just one of them. It is also possible to bring claims on behalf of their children.

Below we deal with some of the most common concerns raised by clients when separating.

Do I have a financial interest in the family home?  
If the property is owned jointly then usually each of you will be entitled to a half share of the value of the property regardless of who paid what towards the purchase and upkeep. If your respective shares were specified when purchasing the home your interest will often reflect your initial financial contribution. Depending on the particular circumstances, however, it is sometimes possible to establish that a person’s interest should differ from their initial financial contribution. Sometimes a Declaration of Trust exists which will specify what percentage you each own.

It is not always necessary for both parties to have made a financial contribution to the property. You may have an interest in the home even if you aren’t a legal owner, if you can show that you contributed to the property in other ways. This could be by paying some money towards the deposit/mortgage or if you are able to demonstrate that your partner made an agreement or a promise that you would be entitled to a share of the property which you relied on to your detriment.  

Even if you cannot show that you have an interest in the home, if there are children, you might be able to claim on their behalf.  The court can order the transfer of property to the parent who is caring for the children, or order that a house is provided for them to live in.

Will I be able to stay in the family home? 
This largely depends upon whether or not there are children involved or where on the death of one of you it had been agreed the survivor could continue to live in the home. If there are dependent children then it might, in some circumstances, be appropriate for them, along with the parent who cares for them, to remain in the family home for a period of time. If there are no children then usually either owner is entitled to have the property sold to release their share of the equity.

What about the finances of my partner such as their savings or pensions? 
Unmarried couples cannot claim against the assets in the sole name of the other party such as their savings, investments and pensions. The law treats them as two separate individuals. Any assets owned jointly will normally be divided equally unless there is evidence that something else has been agreed.

Will I get maintenance? 
It is not possible for unmarried couples to claim maintenance for themselves. If there are children, however, then the parent with whom they reside can claim child support.  If this can’t be agreed directly you can make an application through the Child Maintenance Service. It is also possible for a separated parent to claim capital sums for the children.

What can I do to protect myself? 
If you are considering moving in with your partner you should seek advice from a solicitor about a Cohabitation Agreement. This is a contract to regulate arrangements for the family home, outgoings, debts and children during the relationship. Cohabitation Agreements can provide clarity and set out how the finances should be divided in the event of separation.  This helps to avoid a dispute if the relationship breaks down.  

If you are separating from your partner it is strongly advised that you seek legal advice to ensure that you do not ‘under-settle’ your case. Many cohabitees are unaware of their rights and this can sometimes lead to them walking away from a relationship with nothing. It is also important to make sure that any agreement is properly recorded in a separation agreement.

All individual circumstances differ and having read this article, when deciding how to proceed you should firstly consult with a solicitor who specialises in this area of law.

At Goughs we offer a  free initial consultation with a member of our Family team at a time that suits you. We have six offices across Wiltshire in Calne, Chippenham, Corsham, Devizes, Melksham and Trowbridge.