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Unmarried Couples

Our dedicated solicitors are specialised in Unmarried Couples Separation. We are on your side and by your side to ensure that you receive straightforward and effective legal advice, suited to the needs of your Family.

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Unmarried Couples Legal Advice

Unmarried Couples Rights can be complex, especially as living together in long term relationships while remaining unmarried has become more common.  There is no specific legal definition of what living together is, but it generally means to live together as a couple without being in a formal marriage or partnership.

There is an idea that there is such a thing as a ‘common-law’ husband or wife, and that if you who live together for long enough, have children together, or own a property together, you become common law spouses or common law partners who are afforded certain legal rights or protections. This is merely a myth. Unmarried Couples Rights are very different from those given to divorcees.

When a couple who are married get divorced, the Law makes provision for how their finances are to be dealt with and how a financial settlement is to be achieved. However, if they are not married, there is no general legal right to pursue claims for financial settlement.

The general principle for Unmarried Couples Rights is that they each retain what they have in their sole names, and only jointly owned or held assets are to be dealt with. This general principle applies to properties, pensions, savings, gifts, income, and also debts. What’s yours is yours, and what belongings to your ex is theirs.

There are some situations where this general assumption can be overturned, but this can sometimes be difficult to prove and often there is no clear evidence in support of claims to prove the unmarried couple’s intentions regarding properties.

The law around unmarried couples separating is especially complex, and the lack of clear legal provision can lead to disputes arising. It is always therefore best to set out clearly at the outset what assets are owned and how they should be dealt with in the event of a separation. This written agreement, called a cohabitation agreement, can be used to clearly evidence the intentions of the couple when moving in together.


How Rowlinsons Solicitors can help

We have an expert family law team on hand to chat to you about the options available to help you with your specific situation. Please contact us today for more information or for a friendly, no obligation, initial call.

Contact us on 01928 735 333 for an initial no obligation call or click here for a call back. We also have meeting facilities in North Wales for Family Law clients.


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What can I do to protect my rights?

For those couples not getting married but setting up home together, the advice is to set out clearly and in writing exactly what you intend should happen to your property and other assets in the event of a separation in the future. At Rowlinsons Solicitors, we have a team of experts who are on hand to advise you on the various options available for unmarried couples deciding to buy a home together or move in together.

There are different ways to protect your assets, and it is important to get legal advice at the outset to make the decision that is best for you.

Cohabitation Agreements

A type of family law contract, a Cohabitation Agreement records the arrangements between the parties including the property, payment of the mortgage, outgoings, ownership of contents and much more.  It can be extremely useful in the event of a breakup to set out exactly what is to happen and how things are to be dealt with. (link to separate cohabitation page)

Declarations of Trust

Where a house is bought jointly by two people who are unmarried, a Declaration of Trust is often a useful document to have. It can set out and record how the proceeds of sale of the property should be dealt with in the future. If one party has contributed more to the deposit than the other, this can be recorded in a Declaration of Trust and protected for the future.

Deeds, licences and other documents

If it is intended that a couple will live together in a house only owned by one of you, it is important to both understand the rights and responsibilities that this can create. Without a clear written legal document this can leave one party in difficulty and in a situation that was not what they intended.

There are a range of documents that can protect both parties who intend to live together in a home only owned by one of you, and our team of experts are on hand to talk you through your options and help you decide what is right for you and your family.

Unmarried Couples FAQs

Do unmarried couples have the same rights as married couples?

No, unmarried couples do not have the same rights, protections or status as married couples. If you are not married to your partner, you do not have the same rights to claim financial support as married couples. This is the case regardless of how long you may have lived with your partner, or whether you have children together.

Many people wrongly believe that after a period of time, an unmarried couple become common law spouses. This is not the case, and it is important to understand that when an unmarried couple separate, they don’t have similar rights to married couples.

The current law of England and Wales for unmarried couples is fairly basic, although it is possible in the future that this may change. As things stand currently, an unmarried person can’t claim financial support or maintenance from their ex-partner (unless it is child maintenance for a child they have together). You can’t make a claim for a share of the ex’s pensions or any asset owned in their sole name either. There are some rare exceptions to this, however you would be advised to get expert legal advice to understand your rights and responsibilities if you are living with your partner but unmarried.

For more help or information about unmarried couples and their legal rights and options, or to book an initial no obligation telephone consultation, please contact Rowlinsons Solicitors and ask to speak to the Family Department.

What about ‘common law’ marriage?

There is the misconception that couples living together have the same rights as married couples. This is known colloquially as ‘common law marriage.’ Even if you have lived as a couple for many years or have children together, unmarried couples don’t have the same rights as married or civil partners. There is no such thing as common law marriage in England and Wales.

More people are deciding not to marry these days than ever before. Increasingly children are born outside of marriage and more families are living together as cohabiting families and blended families. Because partners’ lives become entwined it makes things incredibly complicated if you do split up.

Without any legal protection, you are at a disadvantage, particularly if you’re the financially weaker partner because you have few legal rights and responsibilities if you part ways. You could also be at significant risk if your partner moves in to a property owned in your sole name, as they may be able to bring a claim for a beneficial interest.

 What happens to the house when we split up if we’re not married?

Often the first thing to think about if you are separating from your partner when you live together is what happens to the house. This will largely depend on who owns the house.

If the house is owned in joint names, the starting point is to work out whether you are joint tenants or tenants in common. If you own the property as tenants in common (whether 50:50 or in unequal shares) the share you are entitled to is usually the same as specified when you bought the property or subsequently entered into a written agreement or Deed. Often if you have agreed to own as tenants in common in unequal shares, a declaration of trust is entered into. Other times you may have simply opted for a 50:50 share. Usually you are entitled to whatever amount your beneficial ownership is expressed as, but there may be some exceptions to this.

If you own the house as joint tenants, you both own the house 100% together. In that situation you haven’t specified the exact amounts, or beneficial interest, you are each entitled to. The assumption is that it would be shared equally, but there may be arguments to say that would be unfair. This can sometimes make things more complicated, and it is important to get expert legal advice to understand your rights and options.

If the house is only owned in one of the couple’s names, the question will then be whether the non-owning partner has what is called a beneficial interest in the property. Sometimes, someone can acquire a beneficial interest in a property because they have contributed towards the deposit or the mortgage payments, they may have paid for some renovation work to the house like a new bathroom or kitchen, or they may have given up their own home in reliance on promises made that this would become their family home. Claiming a beneficial interest can be complex and it is really important that you take expert legal advice to understand your rights.

For more help or information unmarried couples separating, or the legal ownership of your property, or to book an initial no obligation telephone call, please contact Rowlinsons Solicitors and ask to speak to the Family Department.

 What happens to children of a separating unmarried couple?

An unmarried couple with children splitting up can face some complicated legal disputes. In many cases, the separating couple comes to an agreement independently, and can plan the details of how child care should be provided by each unmarried parent without the intervention of a court. However, it is not uncommon for couples not to come to an agreement when the relationship breaks down, requiring an application for a Child Arrangement Order.

This must be done through the courts, and requires an expert team of family lawyers to get the best legal advice.

Should you become the primary carer for a child, the other parent could be liable for child maintenance. You will need to make an application with the Child Maintenance Service (formerly Child Support Agency). They will assess your financial and personal situation, as well as the current agreements for child care and the involvement of the non-resident parent, to conclude an appropriate amount of child maintenance.

 Can I make a financial claim against my ex partner?

Unlike cases involving married couples in a divorce, financial settlements for unmarried couples are only applied to very rare cases, and limited in scope. You have no right, by default, to claim a share of your ex-partner’s assets, their pensions, or property - unless you can prove a beneficial interest.

Claims for child maintenance must be made through the Child Maintenance Service if your case is eligible, but their amount can be topped up by the court if the non-resident’s parent’s income is over £3,000pw. They may also oversee claims for child provisions outside of the scope of the Child Maintenance Service, which are regulated by the Children Act 1989.

 Should I put property into joint names with my unmarried partner?

It’s very important that you take legal advice before buying a house with your partner. A solicitor will be able to advise you on the various options, and the pros and cons of each.

There are two main ways of owning a property in joint names, and there are legal and practical implications to consider for each. If you buy a property as joint tenants, you each share 100% ownership of the property. If you have put more money in to the house than your partner, it is important to understand you might not get this back. If you separate from your partner and you own a house as joint tenants, the assumption is that the house should be shared 50:50 between you both.

The other way to own a property jointly is called tenants in common. You can be equal, 50:50 tenants in common, which means you are each entitled to 50% if you separate. You can also choose to be tenants in common in unequal shares, for example 70:30. This can be a good option if you want to protect a deposit or contribution you make to a property that your partner doesn’t match. You can have what is called a Declaration of Trust setting out the amount each of you get from the house. You can record specific details, such as receiving back the deposit you have received, and then dividing the remainder in a certain way. 

If you would like more legal advice about buying a property, Declarations or Trust, or what happens in the event of a separation, please contact Rowlinsons Solicitors.

Contact our Unmarried Couples Solicitors

Rowlinsons expert team of Family Law Solicitors in Cheshire has collected many awards over the years for the level of expertise and client care it consistently delivers to families across the UK. 

We have offices in Frodsham and Sutton Weaver, and provide support to families in St Helens, Widnes, Warrington, Chester, and Northwich. We are also able to meet with you and discuss your options in person in North Wales, the Wirral, Liverpool, Manchester and across Cheshire. We are always available to help, whatever the situation is and wherever you are located in England and Wales.

To find out more about Collaborative Law, and how it can work for you, please Contact us on 01928 735 333 for an initial no obligation call or click here for a call back. We also have meeting facilities in Colwyn Bay for Family Law clients.