Increasingly people are choosing to live together without getting married or entering into a civil partnership. There are however many misconceptions about the status of cohabiting relationships not least the nature and extent of claims that cohabitees might be able to pursue in the event that their relationship should end.
There is no such thing as a "common law marriage". Even if you have lived together for many years, or have children together, there is no special status afforded to your relationship.
When cohabitees separate they face the same painful experiences as married couples and frequently similar issues need to be resolved including arrangements for children or division of financial assets. However whereas there are specific laws for married people or couples in a civil partnership there are no specific laws for cohabitees.
Within a divorce or dissolution of civil partnership the Court can makes Orders which it believes to be fair and reasonable for the parties after an analysis of their overall circumstances. The approach for separating unmarried couples is far more restrictive and disputes about property are predominantly dealt with under Trust Law most notably the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act. Generally speaking the Court will be concerned with trying to ascertain who owns what property by analysing what the parties intended or whether either or both parties have made a contribution to the purchase or renovation of the property, to gain a “beneficial interest”.
When cohabitees separate there is no legal obligation on them to financial support the other although maintenance for children can be claimed. Disputes about property and other monies can be difficult to resolve. It is therefore important that expert legal advice is sought. Our family law team has extensive expertise in negotiating settlements for separating couples involving property and other assets.
It is now becoming increasingly popular for cohabiting couples to enter into Agreements at the commencement of their relationship. These so called Cohabitation Agreements will clearly record the intentions that each party has in respect of property and finances with the aim of avoiding difficulties should the relationship subsequently breakdown. Understanding the position at the outset and taking simple precautionary measures can prevent significant problems later on. Our team has extensive experience of drafting such Agreements which can fit in with you particular needs.