2.9 million couples in this country live together without marrying. Many believe that simply by living together, they will acquire rights over their partner’s assets. As English Law stands, this is simply not true. On the breakdown of marriage, a couple’s relationship is protected by law; this is not the same with a cohabiting couple.

Let’s look at two illustrations:

  • Say, someone moves in with their partner, selling their own home and giving up their job, using the proceeds to meet the couple’s general living expenses. Several years could go by with happy cohabitation before problems set in that lead to separation. You might think that on separation the person, who had sold their home and given up their job, would be entitled to an interest in the property they lived in and or compensation for their loss. You would be wrong.
  • A couple are buying their first home together, contributing different amounts to their deposit. They find their dream home and instruct a solicitor to deal with the purchase of it. Unless they make it clear to the solicitor that they want the property to be owned otherwise, there is a very real likelihood that the property will be purchased in their joint names. This means that irrespective of who contributed what to the purchase, legally the property is owned equally. No Court can change this.

Though these are simple illustrations, the reality is any dispute between former cohabitees can be drawn out and expensive, almost certainly involving court proceedings to identify whether a trust of some sort has been created in favour of one party or the other.These cases do not take place in a family court but are dealt with through civil court procedure.

If a cohabiting couple have children together, then laws apply which allow financial claims to be made. However, these claims are for the benefit of children who are under 16 or in continued education and not for the adult in the relationship.

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