Couples who are unmarried can be just as committed as married couples. When buying a property together it is vital to know what could happen if the relationship does not work out.
The law does not recognise a cohabiting relationship in the same way that it formally recognizes marriage or civil partnership. If a cohabiting relationship breaks down there is very little protection for the partner who is in the weaker economic position. As a result, some cohabiting families can find themselves facing real difficulties should they split up.
In England and Wales, when a marriage or civil partnership breaks down, both parties have legal protection in the form of potential claims to income and capital support from the other spouse, including interests in any property held by either party. Cohabiting couples have no automatic legal protection, regardless of the number of years they have been together. There can be some limited help for unmarried couples with children and we would be happy to advise you in detail, according to your particular situation.
Attempts to claim part of the property or assets of a former cohabiting partner can be fraught with difficulty and a party can find themselves in a potential minefield all too easily. The best thing to do is seek advice before buying a property or moving in with a partner so that steps are taken to ensure that both parties know where they stand in terms of ownership and both know what to expect if sadly things do not work out.
Where cohabiting couples own the family home in joint names in English law the property will automatically be divided 50:50 – even if one partner contributed more to its purchase – unless they entered into a formal written legal agreement at the time of purchase, stating the proportions in which they own it. This can be challenged in court in certain limited circumstances however it is always preferable to have a written agreement in place to avoid a costly dispute and uncertain outcome.
One potential solution for cohabiting couples (aside from getting married or entering a civil partnership!) is to enter into a cohabitation agreement, otherwise known as a living together agreement or “no-nup”.
Cohabitation agreements can set out who owns what and in what proportion and lets each person document how to split property, contents, savings and other significant assets should the relationship break down. It can also cover issues surrounding child support.
Where advice has not been taken at the beginning it is still important to obtain advice as soon as things break down to see if anything can be done to alleviate the situation, however taking steps before break-up is undoubtedly the most prudent step.
Agreements can also be used to set out practical arrangements for how you and your partner will manage your finances on a day to day basis whilst you are living together, such as how much each one of you contributes towards rent or a mortgage and who is responsible for paying the bills.
Financial Issues for Unmarried Parents
It is possible to make an application to the Court for financial relief for the benefit of a child where the parents of that child are no longer living together. Specifically, the Court can make an order for periodical payments and the settlement of and/or the transfer of property for the benefit of the child. The Court may in certain circumstances make an Order for interim periodical payments.
Such an application may be made by the parent of the child concerned, the child’s Guardian or any person who has a Residence Order in respect of a child. In certain limited circumstances the child may be able to bring the application in person, if they are over the age of 18.