What is Cohabiting?
Cohabiting is when a couple lives together. So, if you’re living with your partner, and you’re not married or in a civil partnership, you’re a cohabiting couple. Please note that an unmarried couple can never be ‘common law married’ because common law marriage no longer exists in UK law. It was abolished in 1753.
Unmarried, cohabiting couples living together in England and Wales do not share the same legal rights as those who are married or in a civil partnership. For example, unmarried couples cannot claim for spousal maintenance, and they don’t automatically inherit their partner’s estate when they die.
When cohabitees separate they can face difficulties: in relation to children; financial provisions for the children; redistribution of finances and the redistribution of any assets between the individuals themselves. Ashmans Solicitors can advise you and help you to resolve these issues.
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What the Law States About Property Rights for Unmarried Couples
If the house was owned by one partner and the other moved in later, the property will still belong to its original owner, even if the couple have lived in it as a family home for many years. If you are joint owners, then you and your partner have equal rights to stay in the property.
If you are the sole owner of the property, then you have a legal right to stay in the home. However, if your partner is the sole owner, you may have no legal rights to remain in the home if you are asked to leave.
If there are children living in the home, their housing needs will need to continue being met. In these circumstances, the Court will only grant you and your children the right to stay in the home if it decides it is in the best interests of the children. Usually this would be for a limited time period, until your youngest child is 18 years old.
What is Beneficial Interest?
A “beneficial interest” in the house is a way of getting a Court to formally recognise contributions you have made towards it. The Court could also recognise an understanding you had with your ex-partner that you would have a share in the property.
By having a “beneficial interest” in the property means that you might have: paid for improvements to the property, paid the deposit, paid part of the purchase price or are paying towards the mortgage repayments.
Spousal Maintenance as an Unmarried Couple
Living together as an unmarried couple does not entitle you to claim for financial maintenance from your ex-partner in the same way that marriage or a civil partnership does. This means that even if you and your partner have lived together for a long while and one of you has been financially dependent on the other throughout this time, neither would be able to claim financial support from the other after separation.
When someone dies without making a will, there are ‘intestacy rules’ which decide who benefits from their estate. Unmarried cohabiting couples have no automatic right of inheritance if their partner dies without making a will.
Child Maintenance after Separation
Both parents have a duty to financially support their children. Therefore, whichever parent the child (or children) lives with after separation would be entitled to Child Maintenance payments from the other parent.
If you cannot establish any interest in the property, but you have children, then you may be able to apply on the children’s behalf for a share of the property. This application can be made under the Children Act 1989. Orders can be made against your partner. This includes orders to transfer the property from your partner to you – as the parent who is caring for the child/children. The property will be held by you for the benefit of the child/children or transferred to the them directly. This can include a transfer of a tenancy.
There are no laws for cohabitees to receive shares of pensions, lump sum payments or maintenance from their former partners, except where the lump sums or maintenance are for the benefit of a child.
If you are involved in a dispute with a former partner to whom you were not married, we would encourage you to come and see us for an initial meeting, so that you fully understand your options. At Ashmans Solicitors, our team of dedicated, hard-working experts will give your case the attention it needs and deserves.
In certain circumstances you may qualify for Legal Aid – please see our page on Legal Aid.
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