Services for Unmarried Couples
There is a common misconception that there is a legal relationship known as the ‘common law husband and/or wife’. In fact, the law of England and Wales does not recognise the ‘common law spouse’. The law merely distinguishes between married couples (or those same sex couples in a registered Civil Partnership) and unmarried couples.
Why does it matter which of these two groups my relationship falls into? The rights and responsibilities of unmarried couples are very different to those of married couples.
On the breakdown of a marriage, both spouses will have an interest in the assets and income of the other and the court has a wide discretion to transfer and distribute those assets to either party as it deems fair and appropriate.
Unmarried couples, on the other hand, are not afforded those same rights. The rights of unmarried/cohabiting couples are largely determined with reference to the law of property and trusts which concentrate very firmly on what was agreed/who contributed what. As a general rule the Court is only normally concerned with financial contributions and this is a problem if there is a marked disparity between the incomes/assets of each party and/or where there are children and one party may play the major role in looking after them at the expense of their own career and earning potential. Consequently, if they later separate, one party may find themselves in a difficult financial position.
What steps can unmarried couples take to protect themselves?
There are a number of ways that you can do so and one of the most important is to consider taking appropriate legal advice at the beginning and before any problems. That advice will include advising you as to:
How you own any property that you may purchase. Particularly if you are contributing unequally, then you will be advised to enter into a declaration of trust which is a document that sets out how you are to own the property and what will happen if you separate;
Entering into a living together agreement and which is a document that sets out in advance what your responsibilities are and how they are to be shared;
Keeping careful written records of any significant financial contributions that you make and particularly towards any property;
Making a will and you may be interested to read our guide to doing so; and
If you have children then these matters become particularly important and you may be interested in our guide to arrangements for children.
Whether you are considering living with your partner, or if you are already cohabiting or in the event of breaking up, then our family team headed by Gill Wright can advise you of your rights and responsibilities. For further information, and if you wish to take advantage of our free initial interview to see whether we can be of assistance, please contact Gill.