Many people believe that where a couple live together as husband and wife, that they are in a 'common law marriage' even though they are not actually married. However this is a myth. Contrary to popular belief, cohabitees do not have the same rights in law as a married couple.
While marriage brings with it a series of legal protections in the event of divorce, for unmarried partners the situation is different.
It is important that such couples are aware that on breakdown of their relationship that the division of 'family assets' and financial support available may be very different from what they envisaged.
Often the main asset that a couple will possess is the family home. Upon divorce, where agreement has not been reached, the family court can be asked to exercise its wide powers to impose a fair and reasonable solution which can include changing the ownership of the property or altering how much each owns in the property.
It is not necessary for both parties to have made a monetary contribution to that property. One may have been the breadwinner and the other the homemaker.
The same will not necessarily apply for a co-habitating couple.
If the couple purchased as joint tenants, either of them could apply to the court for an order that the home is to be sold and that the proceeds are to be divided equally between them.
The property was bought as ‘tenants in common’ then it's assumed that both will have a beneficial interest in the property to the extent that they contributed.
However if the property is owned solely one of the individuals, an investigation has to be made as to whether the other has an interest because they have contributed to its purchase, mortgage repayments or repair and improvement.
If there has been no such contribution, what the parties said to each other or led the other to believe by their conduct may be important and what they intended has to be considered.
It is not uncommon for one of the couple to find that, despite living together in the same home for many years owned by the other, they have no interest in the property because they made no financial contribution to it and there was no indication from the other that it was a joint property.
Upon separation they may have to leave without any financial help from the other to re-house.
If you are experiencing relationship difficulties and are uncertain as to your entitlements, contact us for expert advice on 01827 317070 or firstname.lastname@example.org.