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What are the legal rights of unmarried and cohabiting couples?

More and more people are living together without getting married.

In the event of a separation it is important to realise that the legal rights each person has are very different to those of a married couple.

“Common Law Husband” & “Common Law Wife”

Some people believe that if they live together that they will gain certain rights bycontact us being a ‘common law wife’ or ‘common law husband’.

There is effectively no such thing as a ‘common law wife’ or husband. There is no basis in English law for this.

Finances of unmarried couples

The law treats unmarried couples as two separate individuals. This means assets such as savings or investments and bank accounts will remain in the ownership of whoever’s name they are in at the time of the separation.

Assets held in joint names will generally be divided equally.

Usually you cannot claim ongoing financial maintenance from a partner in the same way that a married person may be able to do so.

However, if there are children from the relationship, then the parent the children live with will be able to claim child support maintenance for the children. Children are entitled to support from both parents and this is a separate issue to that of the separating couple.

Property of unmarried couples

Many couples will own a home together. If the property is held in joint names then the asset will usually be divided equally between the couple. This can either be achieved by one person buying the others share of the equity, or by the property being sold and the equity split.

If a property is held in the sole name of one partner then the situation is different. The starting point in this situation is that the person whose name the property is in will retain full ownership.

This becomes an issue when the other person has contributed financially to the property by means of mortgage payments, purchase deposit or paying for improvements to the property. There may have been some form of agreement between the couple that the property was intended to be jointly owned even though the legalities of changing the property title were not undertaken.

It would then be up to the person, with the help of their solicitor, to justify that they are entitled to a share of the property. This will often involve going to court. This is a complex area of law which requires a family solicitor with experience of this type of situation. Please contact us for a consultation where we can assess your circumstances and advise you as to a possible way forward.

Children of unmarried couples

The most important issue to resolve when a couple separate is that of who the children will live with and when they will have contact with the other parent.

Of course it is important for both parents to have regular and substantial content with their children, but in cases of unmarried couples the rights, in particular of fathers can be more complex. Please see our pages on child maintenance and child living arrangements for more information.

Please contact us for a consultation.