Over 3 million people in the UK live with their partner and are unmarried. It is the fastest growing family type. This week family lawyers in the region are highlighting the lack of rights that exist for these unmarried couples as part of Cohabitation Awareness Week (27 November to 1 December 2017). The initiative is led by Resolution, an organisation that represents thousands of family lawyers and professionals in the UK.
According to the Office of National Statistics almost half of the British public (47%) believe that couples who have lived together for several years have the same legal rights as a married people. This myth of “common law marriage” is untrue. In fact, when these relationships do sadly come to an end, individuals currently have little or no legal protection.
Zoë Hughes, Solicitor at Stone King in Bath, says: “When married couples separate, the Courts can look at a wide range of financial remedies in relation to the couple’s capital, maintenance and pensions. In stark contrast, when unmarried couples separate Courts can’t look into issues concerning pensions, or allocate maintenance for your own personal benefit. The only possible provision is child maintenance through the Child Maintenance Service.”
Often when couples separate, their largest capital asset is their home. However, many couples may be surprised to learn that unless they are named as a Joint Tenant or a Tenant in Common on the title deeds they may not be entitled to a share of a property, even if it has been their home for many years.
In some circumstances it might be possible to establish a claim if you have contributed financially, for example, by making an initial payment towards the purchase or paying part of the Mortgage, but not by merely contributing to household expenses such as bills and food shopping. Alternatively, if there has been a previous agreement that you would receive a share in the property and have acted to your detriment by relying on this agreement, you may be able to stake a claim.
If there are children, the main priority will of course be to ensure that they are adequately housed. Even if the person who will continue to be the primary carer may not necessarily have an interest in the property, they may be able to establish a right to remain whilst the children are still in education.
Zoë adds: “The clear dichotomy between married and unmarried couples is significant. There have been rumblings over the years to change this situation and Resolution and the family lawyers it represents are working to raise public awareness for the lack of rights that currently exist for cohabiting couples.”
Cohabitation Awareness Week is running from 27 November to 1 December 2017.
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