Common law myths – your rights as an unmarried couple

In today’s society, it’s increasingly common for couples to live together as ‘common law’ spouses or co-habitees rather than getting married. The danger of this is that many co-habitees believe they have the same protection as a common law husband or wife, which simply isn’t true. In reality, you have very little protection as an unmarried couple should the relationship end or if one of you dies.

What are your rights if you break up?

If your relationship ends, an unmarried partner who has stayed home to care for children can’t make any claims for property, maintenance, or a pension share. They are able to make a claim for child maintenance through the Child Support Agency, and the court can order the non-resident parent to provide a home for the children to live in, which will revert back to them when the children finish school or university.

Unmarried fathers do not have parental responsibility, meaning they are not legally entitled to have a say in any decisions about their child’s life relating to home, health, education, etc. They can get parental responsibility by registering the birth of their child along with the child’s mother, or by obtaining a parental responsibility order or agreement.

What about rented or owned property?

When it comes to capital, each unmarried partner will keep what is in their name. If they own a property together which is not in joint names, the partner whose name is on the deeds and who pays the mortgage will normally keep the property. If you don’t have children together then you may be able to show you have a ‘beneficial interest’ in the property, if it is owned by your partner. In this case, the court may recognise contributions made towards the home, such as payments towards the mortgage.

If a beneficial interest can be proven, you may be given the right to live in the property, prevent your ex-partner from living there, or get a share if the home is sold. If you own the property jointly, you will have equal rights to stay. If you’re renting and your partner asks you to leave (and the tenancy is in their name), you will normally have no right to stay. You can prevent this from happening by ensuring you have a joint tenancy.

What happens if your partner dies?

If your partner dies and you are not married, neither of you will have access to the other’s bank account and you will not be entitled to access any of your partner’s funds until their estate is settled. Generally speaking, if you have a joint account and one partner dies, the other partner is entitled to the balance of the account, but the surviving partner has to be the joint signatory on the account.

If your partner dies without making provision for you (for example, in their will), there is a chance the survivor could claim and you may be entitled to the house you lived in together. It’s important to note that the law in Scotland is slightly different as unmarried, cohabiting couples are covered by the 2006 Act which provides protection should they break up or if one of them dies.

In order to protect yourself, you can formalise your status with your partner by drawing up a cohabitation agreement. Although it is not legally binding, courts will often recognise cohabitation agreements in court. Another option is to draw up separate legally enforceable agreements, for example, on how a jointly-owned house will be shared should you separate.

If you have any queries about your rights as an unmarried couple, please call Jane Wheeler on 023 9224 6714 or email jane.wheeler@verisonalaw.com.


We have set out below a full list of the services our Family Department can provide whatever your circumstances. If you do however have a query which does not relate to any matter detailed below, please do contact our Family team who will endeavour to assist you.

Divorce or Civil Partnership Dissolution

Whether you are the Petitioner or the Respondent within proceedings or whether you are simply contemplating the same we can provide guidance throughout the entire process. We can assist with:

  • Drafting of documents
  • Negotiations with the other party
  • Correspondence with third parties such as the Court
  • Advice face to face, by telephone, by email.

Pre-Nuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements

Whether you are planning to marry or indeed have now married and wish to formalise arrangements in the event of separation we can advise and assist with the following:

  • Drafting agreements
  • Negotiating settlement
  • Corresponding with all parties

Separation

Whether you are married or living together and in the event you decide to go your separate ways we can assist in formally documenting terms of separation. We can assist in the following ways:

  • Drafting Separation Agreements whether in contemplation of divorce or whether to simply record the split of a cohabiting couple
  • Negotiations with third parties
  • Providing you with advice whether face to face, by telephone or by email.

Arbitration

Arbitration is an alternative to resolving disputes through the Court. At Verisona Law we can assist in a number of ways either by assisting you through the Arbitration or by referring matters to our in house Arbitrator. We offer competitive arbitration rates and a member of our team will be happy to assist with any queries in this regard. Please see our current articles on Arbitration for more details about the process.

Cohabitees/living together

If you have chosen not to marry but wish to live together you may wish to formalise the arrangements and details for doing so. We can assist in the following:

  • Drafting cohabitation agreements/living together agreements
  • Negotiations with all parties
  • Advising you in person, by telephone or email as appropriate.

Divorce where Business are involved

We have extensive experience in dealing with breakdown of marriage where one or both parties are owners of businesses or indeed it may be the family business. We have experience in providing you with advice and signposting for business valuations and will ensure that the business as an asset is dealt with appropriately within any proceedings.

Pensions

In addition to being able to provide specialised advice in relation to Public Sector pensions our team at Verisona Law has vast knowledge concerning all pension arrangements and can ensure that they are dealt with appropriately within any divorce proceedings. Please seek advice from a member of our team.

Parental Responsibility

We are able to advise on all aspects of Parental Responsibility including:

  • Agreements / Orders
  • Exercising your Parental Responsibility rights and duties where appropriate
  • Arising out of Parental Responsibility we can advise on applications for a Specific Issue Order to the Court if appropriate.

If you have any queries concerning Parental Responsibility and its impact on you or indeed whether you have Parental Responsibility for your children, please seek advice from a member of our team.

Assisting through Mediation

Whilst we do direct a number of matters through Mediation, this does not mean that you cannot have legal advice throughout the process. We can advise and assist you through the Mediation process and arrange thereafter to draw up formally any agreement reached be this by way of a Consent Order in divorce proceedings or simply to record in an open document the agreement you have reached at Mediation concerning the subject of your dispute.

Property Disputes

Whether you are married or otherwise, or indeed simply have an interest in a property owned by another we can provide you with advice and assistance including;

  • Applications to the Court
  • Negotiations with all parties
  • Advising and assisting you face to face, by telephone or by email.

Collaborative Law

This is an alternative way to resolve family disputes without the involvement of the Court. The Collaborative process requires both parties to have a Collaborative Lawyer and endeavours to resolve any disputes by way of four way meetings. We at Verisona Law can assist you through the Collaborative process. If this is an avenue of resolving dispute that you would be interested in, please contact a member of our team.

Children

We at Verisona Law can provide you with advice and guidance concerning any disputes you may have relating to your child. This may be with whom the child lives, with whom the child spends time with, a specific issue concerning a child or steps that you wish to take to prevent something happening (Prohibited Steps Order). We can also advise you in relation to maintenance disputes with a third party guidance with dealing with the Child Maintenance Service. If you have a query with any issue concerning your child please contact a member of our team.

Change of Name

Please contact a member of our team if you are interested in changing your first or surname to discuss the drafting of a Change of Name Deed. We offer a fixed price for a Change of Name and we can provide you with further information upon request.

I went to Verisona Law because I had been unsatisfied with two previous attempts with other firms. Verisona gave that real sense of service, made.me feel like a client they were happy to assist at all times and ultimately gave the BEST advice and guidance. Dont waste money; go to Verisona FIRST!


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