Info & Advice

Are you entitled to half of everything if you separate but weren’t married?

Request a Free Consultation with a Solicitor

As fewer couples decide, or can afford, to get married, cohabitation continues to rise with pace. Cohabiting can be described very simply as anyone unmarried who live together as a couple. Although living together without being married is common, there remains confusion about legal rights when separating. In this article, we dispel a few myths and discuss the options.

We’ve been together for years; am I considered a common-law partner?

There is no such thing as being someone’s common-law wife or husband. Many, wrongly assume that cohabitation over a long period will eventually provide them with the same legal rights as their married counterparts. But even where cohabiting couples have been living together over many years, unless the law is changed, they will never gain the protections or legal status conferred by marriage or civil partnership.

Cohabiting couples retain their individual assets when they separate, regardless of the financial situation of either party. This is in stark contrast to married couples whose assets get put into a matrimonial pot to be divided between them, with the starting point being 50:50.

It should be noted that cohabiting couples are afforded the same legal protection in areas such as domestic abuse.

What property rights do unmarried couples have when they separate?

If you own your home jointly with your partner, you will both be entitled to continue living in the property after separation until you decide to sell it. You will retain your respective share of the equity in the property. This may be in equal shares, or in some other percentage, which is likely to have been agreed between you when you purchased the property.

If the property is owned by one party in their sole name, the non-owning partner will have no automatic right to any share of the equity. However, they may be able to argue they have a beneficial interest in the property if they regularly contributed to the mortgage payments, and there was an intention to share ownership of the property. This is a complex area of law, so if you intend to try to establish a beneficial interest, you should seek legal advice as to the strength of your case and your options.

If you are renting your home, and the tenancy agreement is in your partner’s sole name, then you will not have an automatic right to live there if you separate. You can apply for an occupation order from the court which may allow you to remain living in the property even if your partner wants you out. Although there are strict criteria and you should seek legal help in this regard.

Does my ex-partner have to support me financially?

Unmarried couples do not have any entitlement to claim for financial maintenance from their partner if they separate in the same way that marriage does. This means that even if a couple has lived together for many years and one of them has depended financially on the other during this time, neither could claim ongoing support from the other following separation.

What rights do I have to money in our shared bank account?

It is common for couples to open joint bank accounts with a view to using it for paying bills, food shopping, house maintenance, and holidays. If you have a joint bank account, then you will both have access to the money in the account, regardless of who has paid it in. If you can’t agree on how to split the funds, which could be difficult where one has paid more than the other, then, depending on the sum in dispute, you may have to ask the court to intervene.

What rights do I have to our shared possessions?

When it comes to shared possessions, such as a washing machine or three-piece suite, the general rule of thumb is that each item belongs to the person who paid for it. If you paid jointly for any items, then it can be difficult if you can’t agree on how to split them. You could attend mediation or enlist the help of a trusted mutual friend to negotiate on your behalf. These options would mean that the matter could be settled without have to go to court, which in reality, is unlikely to be cost effective.

How can I protect our shared assets?

The only way unmarried couples can protect themselves financial when moving in with their partner is to enter into a cohabitation agreement. This type of agreement allows those who live together to clearly set out their intentions regarding the division of finances and assets if they separate. As a legally binding contract, a cohabitation agreement is capable of being enforced in court.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of things that can be included in a cohabitation agreement:

  • Property owned by each party before moving in together
  • Property purchased whilst living together
  • Bank accounts
  • Household bills
  • Inheritance and wills

When drawing up a cohabitation agreement, you will both need to obtain independent legal advice to make sure it is binding. Doing this, the court is much more likely to take notice of your agreement and put it into effect if you separated. There should also be full disclosure of both party’s financial position, which will also bolster the agreement’s enforceability.

What are our rights regarding the children?

Unmarried couples who have children have the same parental rights and responsibilities as their married counterparts, providing all parties hold parental responsibility. Married couples automatically acquire parental responsibility when the child is born. However, only mothers obtain it automatically when the couple is unmarried. Parental responsibility can be acquired in one of four ways, namely:

  • The father attending the child’s registration of birth and being named on the birth certificate
  • Entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • The court awarding the father parental responsibility
  • The court ordering a Child Arrangements Order in the father’s favour

Financial obligations for the upkeep of any children will continue after the breakdown of a cohabiting relationship, irrespective of whether or not the couple was married. Therefore, whoever the child lives with after separation would be entitled to receive child maintenance payments from the other parent.

Related Articles

Load More

Podcast: Listen Now