Property disputes & children
There are over four million couples living together in England and Wales. Of these, many wrongly believe that they have a ’common law marriage’ and as such have the same protection as married couples if they split up. The reality is they don’t.
They, and their families, actually have significantly fewer rights than people who are married or who have formed a civil partnership. As a result, the breakdown of a relationship can be a financial disaster for a dependent cohabitee. This is because the law surrounding unmarried couples and their separation remains in a very unsatisfactory state and therefore it continues to be a difficult and complex area of family law.
The law is deeply unsympathetic to the dynamics of modern family living, and without the protection afforded by marriage, cohabiting partners find themselves relying upon the archaic laws of property and trust. Unfortunately these laws are ill suited to deal with modern family living. The result is those who have contributed towards the success of a family partnership, without any anticipation of material reward, are often treated very unfairly.
If you share a home with your partner a lot will depend upon how the property is held. If the property is held in your partner’s sole name, and you do not have a Declaration of Trust, it can be very difficult to recover anything from the property even if you have lived there for many years. If you find yourself in this situation you need an experienced solicitor who is up-to-date with current law to advise you clearly.
If you have children it may be possible, in certain circumstances, to secure maintenance provision or rights to occupy the property on their behalf. This is also a complex area of law which your solicitor will be able to go through with you.
If you think this is unfair then you are not alone, so do we, but the situation is unlikely to change quickly which means unmarried partners must protect themselves.
The inconsistency between marriage and cohabitation is not just limited to financial matters. Unmarried father’s still do not automatically enjoy the same Parental Responsibility provided to married fathers. Unmarried fathers, who are not registered as the father on the birth certificate, will need to enter into a formal written agreement with the mother or obtain an order from the court to gain the same Parental Responsibility for their child. For more information on Parental Responsibility see our Children Matters page.