Whilst separating unmarried couples may be entitled to financial support for any children of the relationship (child support or other financial claims on behalf of a child), it may also be that there are other property rights which need to be considered.
In particular, complex claims can arise where couples contribute separate funds to a property, frequently over a period of time. The way in which a property is held (either solely or jointly) is often the determinative factor but that is not always the end of the story. A detailed assessment may need to be done to assess precisely what contributions have been made by which party and what each person in the relationship believed the financial consequences of these contributions to be. Differing perceptions, the passage of time or conflicting documentation often makes this process more complex.
It may also be that a dispute arises about who should continue to live in a jointly owned property or whether, when and how it should be sold. The Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 can be used to resolve these disputes and we can advise you on all these aspects. If appropriate, we can help you agree and draw up a separation agreement.
Contrary to the belief of many, there is no legal recognition of the concept of “common law husband/wife” and as such there is no right to maintenance from the other party when an unmarried relationship breaks down. There are only strict property rights or, if there are children of the relationship, the possibility of applying for child support or making other financial claims on behalf of a child.
The law in this area is complex and many, including the President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, have argued that it is in need of reform. The recommendations of the Law Commission have not, as yet, been taken further by the legislature. It is particularly important, therefore, to take early advice if you are considering whether or not to cohabit and/or how to hold a property. A key component in these cases is often an assessment of what the couple intended and believed the position to be. As a result, couples often choose to enter into a cohabitation agreement to clarify their understanding of the financial arrangements at the start. Such an agreement may also address other matters such as future contributions to renovations or expenses.