Unmarried couples who separate often don’t realise that their legal position is not the same as couples that are divorcing. It is a constant surprise that many clients still believe there is some sort of ‘common law right as husband and wife’ – this is known as the ‘common law myth’ and there is no such concept in English law.
The law that applies to any disagreement can be far more complicated for unmarried couples who separate than for those who are married. Unmarried disputes will focus on the property owned by one or both of the parties and this is governed by Trusts Law and The Law of Property Act 1925… legislation that is almost 100 years old! The only other issue arising out of an unmarried separation that can be resolved by the court are regarding financial and physical arrangements for the parties’ children (to include their maintenance and issues of parental responsibility).
Therefore, if you are about to, or have come out of a relationship and you were not married and there are issues in relation to property and or children matters it is extremely important that you obtain legal advice.
One way couples can protect themselves against future disputes about property or children is by entering into a cohabitation agreement. These agreements will incorporate and provide for division of property, financial provision for the children and the children’s physical arrangements from the outset. Obviously these agreements should be reviewed regularly to ensure they take account of changes in the life of the parties. As with prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, cohabitation agreements are not binding on the court (except in relation to property). However, these agreements serve to provide the court with a view of the parties’ original intentions and as a result, they can be quite persuasive.
If you would like advice on unmarried separation or cohabitation agreements, please contact Thomas Mansfield Family Law…