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What rights do Cohabitees have?

Many couples who find that their marriage has come to an end will be aware that it is possible for them to apply to a court for a financial order in respect of any property or assets that belong to their spouse. A divorced person is entitled, if applicable to their circumstances, to maintenance payments, to a share of their former spouse’s pension, or to receipt of a lump sum or property, even if they do not own that property in joint names with their former spouse or they did not contribute in person to the pension or other capital assets.

In the case of a longer marriage, a court will be less concerned with who paid for what and when, and more concerned with ensuring that both parties leave the marriage in a similar position financially.

But what is the position with couples who separate after living together, often for a considerable time and sometimes with children born to the relationship?

It is quite usual for people to think that there is such a thing as a “common law husband or wife”, and that by merely living together with someone else for a nominal period of time, they have acquired the same rights over their partner’s property and assets as a married person.

In fact this is not the case at all. There is no such legal entity in UK law as “common law marriage”, this is a misconception. Cohabiting couples who separate are not entitled to maintenance payments for themselves from their better off former partner (except for children). They are not entitled to a share of their former partner’s pension. They may even find that they are actually no longer entitled to occupy a property that has been their home for many years!

In relation to property, if the property is owned in joint names, there is a presumption that it is owned in equal shares and a house, for example, can usually be sold and any proceeds from the equity of the property (if any) can be divided equally, although this presumption can be rebutted. Any capital in a joint bank account is usually assumed to belong to both parties in equal shares.

If property is owned by only one person, it can be difficult for the non-owning partner to claim a share in that property, even if they have lived there for a long time. The law in this area can be quite complex and involve the field of “constructive trusts” and analysis of the parties’ intentions in respect of the property when it was purchased or the relationship started.

A Cohabitation or Living Together Agreement and a Will can be obtained should you be thinking of living together, or already living together, and going to own property and have children. A cohabitation agreement is therefore an important agreement and document should the relationship end. If you are splitting up and have never entered into a cohabitation agreement then you should enter into a separation agreement.

Here at Laker Legal Solicitors we specialise in Family Law & if you’re in a cohabitee dispute or simply want to know your rights as a cohabitee then give us a call and talk to one of our experts to see how we can help you.

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