The Collaborative Law process can work particularly well to resolve problems relating to issues regarding the breakdown in a relationship between unmarried couples. Please click here for more information, call 01284 763333, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contrary to common belief, there is no such thing as a common-law husband or common-law wife in this country. Unmarried couples have different legal rights to married couples in relation to property and ‘joint’ finances.
If a couple plan to set up home together, it is advisable to enter into a Living Together Agreement. If the relationship does then break down, the mechanics of what happens to the shared home, and other property will have already been agreed, and the process will be less complicated.
However, if the parties have not entered into a Living Together Agreement, the laws governing relationship breakdown are not as comprehensive as divorce laws:
- Property law governs who may remain living in the family home. If you are a joint owner, you will have rights. If you are not, you may still have certain rights if you have contributed to the purchase of the home, or you may be able to claim an interest or right to occupy the home. It is essential to seek legal advice, as this is a very complicated area of law.
- Who retains other assets, such as cars and furniture will depend partly on who purchased the items.
- There is currently no equivalent of spousal maintenance for unmarried couples.
- Issues regarding children are dealt with on our Children and Child Maintenance pages.
- Unmarried couples cannot make claims over pensions.
The 2011 case of Jones v Kernott highlighted the problems faced by unmarried couples who own
property. Read our summary of the case here. The former President of the Law Society and the Chair of
Resolution commented on the case as follows:
The Law Society (John Wotton) welcomed the judgment, saying:
"This judgment moves the law forward because it allows Courts to reach a view about what the parties intended, and what a fair outcome should look like. However, the meaning of 'fairness' in cohabitation law is not the same as fairness in marriage. Today's verdict only goes so far in providing cohabiting couples with clarity about what will happen to shared property on a relationship breakdown. The fact is that successive governments have failed to legislate on the rights of unmarried couples living together, despite the Law Commission's proposals for reform, which we have supported.
"Many cases could still end with what most people would consider an unfair outcome. The confused state of the law continues to cause stress, litigation and costs – and hence ultimately is damaging for families and children.
"It is crucial that couples who are thinking of buying a property and living together take legal advice from a solicitor to reduce the likelihood of potential problems later. Solicitors are highly experienced in dealing with house purchases and helping people properly set up their financial arrangements. A solicitor will help to avoid unforeseen problems, about legal rights in a relationship generally, and can discuss how rights might change as a relationship develops, such as children or marriage." David Allison, former Chair of Resolution, said: "Whilst we welcome today's judgment, the fact that it has taken four different hearings in four different places to determine the outcome highlights that the law for cohabitants is a mess and is in urgent need of reform.
"Despite the "common law" marriage myth, it is possible to live together with someone for decades and even to have children together, and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner's welfare. That is simply wrong.
"The current situation for people who live together often creates injustice and hardship, and the law fails to reflect the way people are choosing to live their lives." The Law Commission are currently reviewing the law on unmarried couples. When we have any news to report, we will provide a summary of it on our website.
If Ms Jones and Mr Kernott had signed a Living Together Agreement, their plight would not have occupied several days of court time, and cost many thousands of pounds. Prevention is always better than cure.
Please contact Elizabeth Hodder at eah@gross.REMOVE-THIS-BARRIER-BEFORE-SENDING.co.uk or Julie McDonald at jm@gross.REMOVE-THIS-BARRIER-BEFORE-SENDING.co.uk for further details.