Many people prefer to live together in long-term committed relationships without getting married. However, when it comes to separation it is important to realise that the legal rights afforded to cohabiting partners are very different from those of married couples.
Many people believe that if they live together that they will gain certain rights by being a ‘common law wife’ or ‘common law husband’. In English law there is no basis in law for this, and there is no such legal entity as a ‘common law wife or husband’.
The law treats you as two separate individuals. This means assets such as bank accounts, savings or investments will remain in the ownership of whichever person’s name they are in. Assets held in joint names will generally be divided equally.
Normally 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 with whom the children live will be able to claim child support maintenance for the children.
Please see our page on child maintenance for more information.
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. Often, one person is able to buy out their partner’s share of the property. If this is not possible or desirable then the property will have to be sold so that each partner can retrieve his or her share of the asset.
If the property is held in the sole name of one partner then this can be more difficult. The starting point is that the person whose name the property is in will retain full ownership.
This becomes a particular issue when the person whose name is not on the title deed has contributed financially to the property by making mortgage repayments, providing the deposit or paying for improvements to the property. In some cases there may have been a form of agreement between the couple that the property was intended to be jointly owned - however the legalities of changing the property title were not undertaken.
In such a situation the onus is on the person whose name is not on the title deed to demonstrate 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 practitioner with experience of this type of situation. Please contact us for a consultation to enable us to assess your circumstances and advise you as to a way forward.
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 for fathers, can be more complex.