Info & Advice

Unmarried and living with my partner: who gets what if we split up?

Divorce is complicated and stressful and can even be a traumatic experience for some. But as far as the family courts are concerned, it is about one thing: the division of money, property and other assets. If you are married to your partner then you have a clear status in law which entitles you to a fair share of the total assets held by you and your spouse. The contributions made by each party to the marriage should be fully reflected in the settlement, even if those contributions were not financial.

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But if you only lived together before your separation, then the situation becomes more complex. You will need to establish or negotiate the ownership of physical objects, from TVs to cutlery sets, on a case-by-case basis. Normally the person who originally bought the item is the legal owner, but if it was given as a gift, then the item belongs to the recipient. Items purchased using funds from a joint account belong to both parties.

But all this can be tricky to prove, especially after time has passed. Memories fade and receipts get lost. So, we advise cohabitants to keep as many receipts and records as they can, especially for more valuable items – just in case.

Funds will belong to the party whose name is on the bank account. But if you have a joint account, this will be considered (as you might expect) joint property, with both parties equally entitled to spend the money. Therefore, if you separate, it is a good idea to close any joint accounts as soon as you can. Otherwise, your ex could spend the entire contents of the account and even run up an overdraft or other debts, and you would be jointly liable.

Who owns our home after we split?

The most expensive item ever purchased by most people is their home. Buying property is a more complicated undertaking for cohabitees because, unlike their married counterparts, they will have no automatic right to a share of the property belonging to their partner in the event of a separation, and no clear right to inherit if their partner passes away.

For this reason, we would always advise purchasing property on a joint basis. With your name on the title deed as a co-owner of your home, it will be much easier to establish your rights if the relationship does break down, or your partner does pass away.

You may need to choose between being ‘tenants in common’ or ‘joint tenants’. This can make a significant difference if one of you dies. In the former case, you will each own a specified share of the property (not necessarily 50 per cent). In the event of one partner dying, their share would go the person specified in their will. That may be their partner, but, of course, this is not guaranteed.

By contrast, as the name suggests, joint tenants each own the whole property. If one dies, ownership of the whole property automatically passes to the other.

Tenants in common may benefit from a formal, written agreement, called a ‘deed of trust’. This sets out what would happen to the property in the event of separation or the death of one party.

Can I keep our property if my name is not on the deeds?

Even without your name on the title deeds, all may not be lost if the relationship ends and your ex decides to be difficult. In those circumstances, you may be able to establish your right to a share of the home if you can prove that you made a meaningful contribution to the purchase – by, for example, contributing to the mortgage payments. This would establish something referred to by family lawyers as a “common intention” – a provable, mutual understanding that you have a legal interest in the property, even though your name is not on the deeds. Talk to family lawyer to find out more.

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