With many couples choosing to live together instead of marrying, what legal rights does one have if the relationship breaks down? Is there such a thing as a common law marriage?
The law does not recognise a common law marriage. If you are an unmarried couple living together, you are under no obligation to maintain one another financially unlike the obligation between spouses. However, a good family law solicitor will use alternative legislation to secure a fair settlement of property and any finances required for the benefit of any children. Unfortunately, the legislation is complex and not particularly user friendly therefore legal advice from an experienced solicitor is always required.
Unmarried couples may have legal rights to the shared property dependent on the circumstances surrounding the purchase, finance and living arrangements. If there are children, the main carer may also raise a financial claim for the benefit of the child.
The lack of legal recognition for unmarried couples causes great deal financial hardship when they separate after a lengthy relationship. One may have been living in a house that was purchased for the couple but is registered in a Partner’s sole name. It may be that a career was given up to raise children. In these cases, the law of trusts can provide a remedy. A full explanation of the law of trusts is beyond the scope of this blog. However, it is always important for unmarried couples to seek legal advice before purchasing a property or moving in to a property and certainly on separation.
The law does provide for a claim to property where fair and equitable regardless of whose name the property is registered in. This is dependent on intentions at the time of purchase, conversations, acts done to ones detriment upon reliance of conversations, indirect or direct financial contributions amongst other things. It is not solely dependent on whose name the property is registered in or direct financial contributions. The law of trusts is complex therefore legal advice from an accredited specialist is recommended.
A good family law solicitor will have experience of asset division and related issues for unmarried couples. With this knowledge and experience, the solicitor may be able to negotiate a fair settlement without lengthy and costly court proceedings. In addition to a claim in respect of the property using the law of trusts, one may also use Children Act legislation to apply for financial provision for the benefit of the child. Quite often this includes maintenance and property transfer / purchase that will revert to the parent upon the child attaining majority.
Same sex couples have the option of registering their relationship for legal recognition. If their relationship breaks down the legislation under the Civil Partnerships Act gives them legal rights as the Matrimonial Causes Act does for married couples. If they do not register their relationship, they are in the same position as an unmarried heterosexual couple.
Best regards, Harjit SarangUnmarried couples