Common law marriage is a myth. If you're not married or in a civil partnership, the law on property rights and financial settlements on legal separation is completely different.
Contrary to popular belief, living together in a personal relationship doesn't automatically give you any financial rights against each other if you split up.
If a marriage or civil partnership breaks down, the law allows financial settlements to be tailored to the particular circumstances of you and the family. Assets can be transferred between you and maintenance orders made with the aim being to achieve a fair outcome.
This doesn't apply to cohabiting couples who are going their separate ways, even if they've been together years and have children. Broadly speaking, fairness doesn't come into it. Instead couples are left trying to pick their way through a minefield of complicated and outdated property and trust laws. This can leave unmarried partners facing costly disputes and financial hardship when their relationship ends.
We know that the way the law works for cohabitants is confusing. This is why we set up the first specialist website of its kind www.cohabitation-law.co.uk. The aim is help unmarried couples understand their legal position during their relationship and if it comes to an end. It also explains how having a legally binding cohabitation agreement can provide peace of mind and help avoid problems down the line.
Cohabitation is the fastest growing type of family relationship. Most people now live together at least for a time before they get married. More and more choose not to marry at all.
We are experts in the law surrounding unmarried couples. Tensions inevitably run high at the end of a relationship but if you're separating, we understand how to guide you through the complex issues, constructively and with as little conflict as possible. The law for cohabitants may be different to divorce but the emotional impact of separation is the same.
If you have children, you want to make sure that they are put first and properly cared and provided for. Whether or not you're married doesn't change that. This is why the legal position around the arrangements for children when unmarried couples separate is essentially the same. We will talk to you about how mediation, collaborative practice or arbitration may help to achieve the right outcome for you where a court battle might not.
Although the simple fact of living together doesn't give separating cohabitants any automatic financial rights against each other, support for children is treated separately. Regular maintenance will be payable usually in line with the Child Maintenance Service formula (previously Child Support Agency or CSA). If there are high earnings, the court can order additional payments over and above the CMS maximum. If there is any disagreement about private school fees, the court can order these to be paid. We have many years of experience advising on these issues.
Our family lawyers also regularly prepare cohabitation agreements so that you can decide at the beginning of your relationship or during it what you want to happen financially if things unfortunately go wrong later.
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Visit our dedicated website with useful tips, guides and resources about cohabitation law.