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Separating but unmarried – what are my legal rights?

16 July 2021 |

If you are separating as an unmarried couple, the law that applies is significantly different to those who are divorcing or dissolving their civil partnership. Specialist solicitor, Jen Pollock, explains the legal position and key considerations if your relationship has broken down.

Separating as cohabitees

If you have been living with your partner, but you are not married or in a civil partnership, you are in legal terms a “cohabitee”.  Many cohabiting couples believe that should their relationship ever breakdown that they would be entitled to a similar level of legal protection as if they were married. However, this is not the case. If you co-own property or other assets, or if you share children with your cohabitee, you should take legal advice at an early stage during separation as you may be able to make a claim against your former partner.

You may also have claims if there is property legally owned by your former partner but where there was a joint intention for you to share ownership, or where promises have been made relating to your interest in the property.

How can a solicitor help?

If you are in a dispute about the ownership of your formerly shared home, an application can be made to the Court to establish who is entitled to live in the property and ultimately who owns that property.

Before your solicitor can advise you on whether you may have any rights in respect of the property, they will ask you for the following information:

  • A detailed background about the circumstances of the property’s purchase including details of any conversations had prior to or at the time of purchase or subsequently if it is alleged that the intentions changed over time.
  • A copy of any declaration of trust drawn up at the point of purchase or subsequently.
  • Details of whether you made any financial contribution to the purchase price or any subsequent renovations/home improvement.
  • How you arranged your finances within your relationship, including details of any other payments you have made for the benefit of the family e.g. payment of the mortgage, or payment of other outgoings to enable your cohabitee to pay the mortgage.
  • A copy of the conveyancing file or other documents which might explain why the legal position does not reflect your joint intentions regarding ownership.

If the Court is satisfied that there was a joint intention that the ownership of the property was to be shared, the Court must then determine each party’s fair share in light of the ‘whole course of dealing’ between cohabitees in relation to the property. 

Unmarried separation and children

If you are the primary carer for children of the relationship you may have additional claims. These claims can include lump sums to be used for the children’s benefit, a housing fund/settlement of property and the payment of school fees.

If your former cohabitee is working there will also be a claim for child maintenance which should be made in the first instance to the CMS, however if your former cohabitee’s income is over £156,000 per annum the Court can also award ‘top up’ child maintenance.

Specialist family law advice

Let’s talk. You can call us on 0117 906 9400 or email for further information from our separation solicitors in Bristol and London. Alternatively, please complete our contact form

If you are not ready to talk to a solicitor but would like to find out your legal position and next steps, you can use our interactive form to get a personalised report. It is easy to use, secure, and confidential. It also saves you time and money as it provides our team with your background information, so they are better prepared to give you immediate advice at your first meeting. Click here to make a start online.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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