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Unmarried Couples & Families

Unmarried Couples & Families

Most unmarried couples are surprised to learn that when their relationship breaks down, they do not have the same legal rights as a married couple in the same position. There is no such thing as a “common law” marriage. Unmarried partners, for example, cohabitees (unmarried couples who live together) are not entitled to claim maintenance for themselves from the other person and they do not have a claim on the other person’s pension or other assets.

It is likely that the biggest family asset will be the home. The law on which separating couples must rely to sort out whether the home should be sold or kept by one of them is complex and based on trust law as opposed to the law which is applied to married couples in the same position.

For separating couples with children, it may be possible to seek “top up” maintenance, over and above any maintenance assessed by the Child Maintenance Service. Additionally, the courts are able to make provision to house a cohabitee with children either by transferring property to them or providing monies to purchase a property. In these cases the housing is being provided for the child of the family and it would be usual for the property to be sold or transferred back once the child or children were 18.

Some of these issues can be avoided by entering into a cohabitation agreement at the outset of your relationship.